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Printed for Messrs. //. ^\ & G. Witherby by 
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THE few pages contained in this volume are 
the outcome of curiosity aroused in myself .as to 
the ancient faith of the little known Yezidi tribes, 
based on a visit to their strongholds and amplified 
by a little research amongst the existing literature 
on the subject. A certain amount of local gossip 
has been included and a few deductions drawn 
from the little information available as to the 
origin of these remarkable people and their rites, 
their lives being so far removed from the march of 
civilization. From a study of the Yezidis it will 
be appreciated that the followers themselves of 
Melak Ta'us, the Peacock Angel, are unable 
(perhaps unwilling) to throw much light on their 
ancient history, and that it has been left to 
Christians and Muhammadans to crystallize certain 
nebulous theories in connection therewith. It 
must, therefore, suffice for us to know that the 

religion has survived the vicissitudes of .at least a 




thousand years ; and, although the numbers of the 
Yezidis have lately been much reduced, their faith 
in the worship of the Devil remains serenely 
unchanged by the conflict of the claims of three 
of the great world religions which surround them. 

The manuscript of this book was virtually 
completed at Baghdad, and it was not until my 
arrival in London that I came across a most 
interesting book by Dr. Isya Joseph on the same 
subject. I have, therefore, to some extent altered 
the chapter dealing with the origin of these tribes 
in view of this American writer's careful analysis 
of the theories already advanced in this respect. 
His own contention is evidently the result of much 
research, and is, so far as I am aware, entirely an 
original one. 

The photograph shown as a frontispiece 
represents a steel figure (originally in three pieces) 
of a peacock, standing on a plinth, partly inlaid 
with antimony on the body and the tail expanded 
and ornamented with human and animal figures 
in the lobed border (human busts and deer 
alternately), and the head gilt with turquoises. 
The image, which is 35 J inches high, is said to 
have been used by the Yezidi tribes of the district 
of Halitiya, and to have come in 1882 from their 


Temple at Dahadia near Diarbekr in North 
Kurdistan. It is of Persian origin, and was 
presented to the British Museum by Mr. Imre 
Schwaiger of Calcutta in 1912. It is reproduced 
by kind permission of the Trustees of the British 

An illustration of a peacock resembling the 
one shown appears facing page 39 of Anthropos, 
Volume VI (1911), accompanying an article by 
Pere Anastase Marie, entitled, " La decouverte 
recente des deux livres sacres des Yezidis." This 
peacock, which is of iron, is one of four stolen by 
Reshid Pasha in 1837. It found its way into an 
antique shop in Baghdad, kept by a Mussulman 
named 'Ali, who sold it a few years later to a rich 
Christian called Futhu'llah Abbud. The base 
only of this peacock is of slightly different design. 

I have heard of only two other symbols, outside 
a Yezidi shrine. One is now in the possession of 
Mr. J. W. Dowden of Edinburgh, and the other 
is in the State Museum of Jeypore (Jaipur) in 

I have to thank Mr. Kenneth MacKenzie, Mr. 
T. Spencer James and Mr. E. N. Fallaize for 
their suggestions; and Squadron Leader G. S. 
Trewin and Captain A. I. Sargon for their help 


and interest in the expedition to the Holy Temple 
at Sheikh ; Adi. I am also indebted to Squadron 
Leader V. R. Scriven and to Mr. A. Riley for 
the reproduction of certain photographs, to the late 
Miss Gertrude Bell for additional facts concerning 
the Temple, and to certain past writers on the 
subject of Devil Worship. 

On my return to England I visited the 
Oriental Department and the Department of 
Ceramics and Ethnography at the British Museum, 
whose officials I wish to thank for their courtesy, 
particularly Mr. H. J. Braunholtz. Further, after 
my return, I asked Sir Richard Temple to 
comment on my remarks, and as he did so at 
considerable length, with the object of adding as 
much as he could to the general knowledge of the 
Yezidis, I have appended his observations to mine 
as a Commentary on my own researches. 

This Commentary has raised the question of 
the spelling of Muslim names and words. Sir 
Richard Temple remarked to me that Arabic 
is differently pronounced by both Asiatic and 
European nations using the language and its 
proper names, and accordingly the Arabic 
characters are so differently transliterated by 
Europ'ean scholars, that each writer has practically 


to adopt his own spelling. Thus, the name of the 
founder of Islam has been variously represented 
in Roman characters as Muhammad, Mahommed, 
Mahomet, Mehemet, Mammet all more or less 
accurately representing a formal pronunciation of 
the name, spelt in Arabic, m-h-m-d. So also 
Shefket and Shauqat both fairly represent the 
pronunciation of the same Arabic characters, 
sh-w-q-t ; so do Evliya and Aulia represent Aw-l-ya. 
In these circumstances he has adopted in his 
Commentary the spelling used for half a century 
in his own journal, the Indian Antiquary, and by 
the Government of India. In order, too, that the 
reader shall not be unduly puzzled, I have adopted 
the same spelling wherever possible. Pedantry 
has, however, been avoided, and certain well- 
known names are spelt as they are usually known, 
e.g., Yezidi, Diarbekr, Reshid Pasha, Jebel, 
Sheikh, Medina, Mecca, Zemzem and so on. In 


the spelling of Melak Ta'us, Melak Isa and the 
like, I have adopted Melak as I heard the 
name pronounced to mean "angel" and thus 
distinguished it from Malik, " lord or master," 
though in Arabic script there is no difference in 
the characters used, m-l-k. Also in the name 
Wetnhiyun, I have left the name as I found it in 


the work I quoted, though Sir Richard Temple has 
pointed out that it must represent Watn Haiyun or 
Watnu'l-Haiyun, the Land of the Serpents. 

Sir Richard Temple has not always adopted 
my own or my authorities' explanations, but I do 
not look on this as a misfortune, as the object 
before us is to get at the truth, which is often 
accomplished by noting and eventually reconciling 
differences of views on matters still but imperfectly 
known. For this reason he has not interfered with 
any opinions expressed by myself. 

A few further remarks are necessary as to the 
title of this book the Peacock Angel, representing 
Melak Ta'us. In the word melak, translated 
" angel " by me, we find ourselves in one of the 
worst of the many enigmas that Arabic presents 
as a language, and I cannot do better than quote 
the following observations Sir Richard Temple has 
made to me on this point : " The word spelt m-l-k 
in Arabic is variously pronounced as malk, melk> 
milk and mulk, and then means fundamentally 
' property.' These characters m-l-k are also 
pronounced as malik, melik and then mean ' the 
possessor of property, lord, master, king.' They 
are further pronounced malak, melek, melak and 
then mean ' angel.' Malaku'1-Maut is the Angel 


of Death, i.e. 'Azra'il. Then again ma-l-k, pro- 
nounced mdlik, malaky plural amlak, and also 
malak, means * lord, king.' Maliki-Maliku'I- 
Mulk means ' King of Kings of the Kingdom,' 
i.e., God. There are further intricacies of the 
forms and senses of this terrible word which need 
not be gone into here." In view of the above 
remarks, Sir Richard thinks I am justified in my 
title, "Melak (or Melak) Ta'us, the Peacock 
Angel," especially as any Arabic used by the 
Yezidis would be a local dialect. 

It is in the hope that these pages may be of 
some small use to students of strange peoples 
and strange customs, that, apart from any purely 
theological interest, I must excuse my temerity 
in endeavouring to justify their inclusion on a 

R. H. W. E. 



PREFACE . . . .' . .7 



I. DEVIL WORSHIP . . . . .21 








X. MELAK TA'tJS ..... 134 

XI. THE HOLY BOOKS ..... 145 

XII. CONCLUSION ..... 155 




BIBLIOGRAPHY ...... 223 

INDEX ....... 225 



IMAGE OF THE PEACOCK .... Frontispiece 







17 B 





ACCORDING to Christian missionaries, a worship of 
the Devil is world- wide; but probably nowhere 
outside the territories south of the present Asiatic 
Turkey, known as Kurdistan and the Sinjar, does it 
amount to anything more than a cult which, in the 
absence of a better term, might be termed a limited 
Atheism. A true Atheist, however, according to 
modern European standards, has no God, no belief 
in the transmigration of souls, and no creed. If 
he has thought about the matter at all, he probably 
regards the study of religion by others as the result 
of a fear of the unknown on the part of its believers. 
A refusal to believe in another existence does not 
therefore encourage toleration of any kind of 
religion, and in this respect the true Atheist is 

What is loosely known as Devil Worship may 
be nothing more than a kind of Atheism. Mission- 
aries and others have returned with stories of the 

reverence paid to witch-doctors, medicine men and 



similar beings by semi-barbaric tribes in Africa, 
and in many other primitive parts there is evidence 
of a form of Devil Worship. 1 It may, therefore, be 
taken that warding off the Evil Eye is uppermost 
in their minds, due to innate distrust and fear of 
the unknown, and nothing more. 

Of all the little peoples in Western Asia 
who have steadfastly maintained their religious 
and social independence of the adherents of the 
great world religions, namely, Muslim, Jewish and 
Christian, none offer a more interesting study than 

1 By way of examples, the Santals of Bihar in India 
propitiate the malignant Bongas, and the Tehnelche Indians 
of South Patagonia used to fear and worship Gualichu, an 
evil spirit, rather than the good spirit Manitu. The Kazaks 
and Kara Kirghiz also venerate the Devil, but recognize the 
Khuda (God). 

The people of Sikhim and the Ge-lug-pa, a Lamaist sect of 
Tibet, are also thorough-going demon worshippers living in 
mountainous districts, also the Lushais of Assam amongst 
others worship demons (huai), but Satan is not, however, 
identified as one. 

In Japan, stone foxes bearing hungry and malign expres- 
sions are sometimes placed in out-of-the-way spots, and prayers 
are offered up in the form of propitiation. 

" The ancient Egyptians, even when at the height of their 
culture, were, in fact, in the language of the missionaries, 
engaged like many uncultured African peoples, in ' devil 
worship.' It was not until the relatively late times of the 
twenty-second or twenty-fifth Dynasty that theological 
influence succeeded in weaning them from the primitive cult." 
The Mothers, 1887, Vol. II, 755, by Briffault. 


the Yezidis, or Devil Worshippers of Kurdistan. 
Yet the popular appellation of " Devil Wor- 
shippers " is rather a misnomer, however, as they 
are not, in fact, so much worshippers of the Evil 
One, as his propitiators. 

Pagan these tribes undoubtedly are, and it 
might naturally be thought that they would offer 
an ideal opportunity to the converter, but actually 
the district is an unpromising field for missionary 
enterprise. In spite of efforts by Muslim tribes 
in the past to exterminate the Yezidis by raids 
these people remain steadfast in their traditional 
faith, which has survived for at least a thousand 
years. This faith has become so instinctive and 
so ingrained in them, though traditional rather by 
word of mouth than by any definite writing and 
teaching, and has so played on their primitive and 
therefore superstitious minds that Devil Worship 
will, as in South India, despite the gradual 
introduction of more modern ideas, probably exist 
in some form or other and will be practised for a 
long time to come. 1 

1 It is not inappropriate to remark here that texts and 
sometimes traditions preserved by " word of mouth " may be 
even more trustworthy than those preserved by the " written 
word." See Grierson and Barnett's " ly^lavakhyani," and 
Temple's " Word of Late the Prophetess." 


As long as the Turks retained their suzerainty 
over the Yezidi districts in Asia Minor, no attempt 
was made to bring them into touch with the outside 
world, and it was not until the recent overthrow 
of the Turk in the southern portion of that region 
that they have in any measure been brought into 
contact with Western influences. 

The Yezidis are probably Kurdish in race and 
they speak a curious dialect of the Kurmanjt 
language. The Sinjar tribes also speak some 
Arabic. Most of the tribes can be grouped into 
two main classes : those of an Indo-European type, 
having a nearly white skin, a round skull, blue eyes 
and light hair, and those with an Arab strain, who 
have a darker skin, eyes widely set apart, thick 
lips and dark hair. The poverty of written doctrine 
is doubtless explained by the fact that the few who 
can write are unfamiliar with Kurdish characters, 
and resort to those in use by the Arabs. It will 
therefore be seen how laborious the compilation of 
Yezidi books would be, as a Kurdish one would 
be nearly useless. A few common words of the 
Yezidi are sometimes scribbled in Arabic on walls, 
boulders, etc., but no pure Kurdish is seen, which 
seems to show that the written word in their 
language would be to them undecipherable. 


Despite the primitive conditions under which 
the Yezidis live and they are mostly agriculturists 
it must not be thought that they are entirely 
unintellectual. Most of the Sheikhs appear to be 
able to carry on lengthy conversations on local 
politics and other subjects of interest to them; and 
their agricultural activities, though handicapped 
by lack of knowledge of modern research, are 
thorough, and the produce is sufficient for their 
own use. 

The propitiation of the Devil is almost con- 
tinually in the minds of the Yezidis. Even the 
most commonplace incidents of their daily life are 
bound up in a marked degree with observance of 
their faith. Their demeanour and conversation is 
tranquil, and even dignified, and a lost temper and 
cursing are against the tenets pf their religion. 
Away from their own people, they may invoke the 
power of the Evil One upon the heads of infidels, 
but never amongst themselves. 

Generally speaking, worship of idols and in- 
animate things is on a par with Devil Worship, as 
far as fanaticism is concerned. It is well known 
that primitive conditions of living undoubtedly 
make for the rejection of new schools of thought, 
due to the inherent distrust of the unknown. The 


great world religions of to-day are based on certain 
teachings which have been gradually built up on 
a plinth of belief in the sincerity of their founders, 
and similarly Devil Worship is primarily based on 
the sincere belief that propitiation of the Power of 
Evil is most calculated to make for happiness in 
this world and everlasting life in the celestial one. 



UNTIL the beginning of the present century little 
or nothing was known concerning the origin of the 
collection of Devil- worshipping tribes known as the 
Yezidis. Within the last few years, however, those 
interested in primitive religions have been at pains 
to advance theories which, however fantastic, are 
nevertheless full of historical possibilities. Many 
of these are purely conjectural, and it is difficult 
to definitely narrow down the Yezidis' source of 
origin to one tolerably certain. 1 

Some Muslims have ascribed the name Yezidi 
to the followers of the 'Umayid Caliph (Khalifa) 
Yezid I, who followed his father, Mu'awiya I, ibn 
Abu Sufian, as Caliph. 2 He was second of the 

1 According to one writer, before being known by their 
present name, the Yezidis in Asia Minor were called 
Wetnhiyun, or those practising a form of dualism, but later 
changed their name as the worship of the Good Spirit waned. 

2 Not to be confused with Yezid ibn Abu Sufi^n, brother 
of Mu'awiya, who died in A.D. 639. 



fourteen 'Umayid Caliphs. 1 Yezid I was con- 
temporary with, and a disciple of, Muhammad, but 
there is no evidence that Yezid, as has been 
credited by some, during his three and a half years* 
reign KA.D. 680-3), founded either the elements 
of a new religion, or by any means carried 
out the teachings of Muhammad. He is indeed 
credited with the murder of Husain, son of J Ali 
and Fatima, and grandson of the Prophet, on 
roth October, A.D. 680; also with the sack of 
Medina in the following year, when he was 
responsible for the death of eighty companions of 
Muhammad and seven hundred Readers of the 
Qur'an. In addition, during the last year of his 
reign, he attacked the Ka'ba, the sacred temple at 
Mecca. A section of Muslims, namely the Shi'as, 
who are professedly followers of 'Ali, has there- 
fore sought to lay these crimes at the heels of this 
Caliph's descendants, who, they aver, must expiate 
their founder's misdeeds. Certainly the chief 
persecutors of the Yezidis for the last thousand 
years have been the Muslims. Although nothing 
is known of Yezid ibn Mu'awiya allying himself 

1 'AM was the last Caliph, of the first or Orthodox Caliphate 
(A.D. 632-661), which was followed by the 'Umayid (A.D. 661-749), 
and 'Abbsid Caliphates (A.D. 749-1258). 


with those embracing a heterodox Muhammadan 
religion, the following fantastic story of his father 
appears in the Mashaf Ras, one of the Holy Books 
of the Yezidis : Muhammad had a servant named 
Mu'awiya, and when God saw that Muhammad was 
not upright before him, he afflicted him with a 
headache. The Prophet then asked his servant to 
shave his head, and as a result Mu'awiya cut his 
head in the process, drawing blood. Fearing that 
the blood might drop to the ground, the servant 
licked it up with his tongue. On perceiving this, 
Muhammad said in effect, " You have sinned; you 
shall oppose my sect." Mu'awiya replied, " Then 
I shall not enter the next world; I shall not marry." 
God afterwards sent scorpions upon Mu'awiya, 
which bit him, causing his face to break out. Doctors 
urged him to marry lest he die, and hearing this, 
he consented. They brought him an old woman, 
eighty years of age, in order that no child should 
be born. Mu'awiya knew his wife, and in the 
morning she, by the power of God, appeared as a 
woman of twenty-five. She afterwards conceived 
and bore the Yezidis' god, who is called Yezid. 

In connection with Yezid, it is alleged that one 
of the " seyen gods " made the sanajiq (Turkish, 
meaning standards) used by the Yezidis; this god 


is also credited with giving them to Solomon, who 
bequeathed them to the first king. When the god 
Yezid 1 was born he received these symbols with 
great reverence and bestowed them upon the tribe. 
The image of Yezid is thus thought to be per- 
petuated in the form of their standard, which is a 
peacock. The story is, of course, mythical, but is 
nevertheless interesting. 

As a matter of fact, most European writers, so 
far from giving Yezid, son of Mu'awiya and a 
Bedouin woman, credit for devout practices, say 
that he was merely an eager and skilful huntsman, 
a gallant lover, fond of wine, music and sport, and 
that religion entered very little into his life, and 
the story mentioned must be, therefore, regarded as 
pure legend. It is, however, true that the Yezidis 
themselves believe they are descendants of the 
Caliph, but this may be dismissed as due to 
ignorance and in order to escape the persecution 
of the Sunnis, who do not regard Husain in the 
same light as the Shi' as, and to a desire to trace 
descent from some noble personage. 

An unknown writer has said that the Arabs who 

1 It is generally believed by Europeans that this god is a 
later creation, invented to account for a title otherwise 


accepted Muhammad called those who did not 
al-jahilin (ignoramuses), and that among the un- 
believers was Yezid ibn Mu'awiya. Many of the 
al-jahilin (a tribe of pagan Arabs) rallied round him 
and became the nucleus of the sect of Yezidis. He 
also says that the Yezidis possess a genealogical 
tree by means of which they trace him back from 
their present Mir. No mention is elsewhere made 
of this document, and whilst there is nothing to 
prove that such a document does not exist, the 
Yezidis are so anxious to trace their origin to a 
titled personage that evidence of this nature should 
be sceptically received. 

Some of the Yezidis themselves assert that their 
sect did not originally bear the name Yezidi. They 
say that after corruption entered their religion, a 
Caliph named Yezid, son of Mu'awiya ibn Abu 
Sufian and a Christian female, hearing of one Sheikh 
'Adi, went to him, absorbed the latter's religion and 
taught it to his followers. 

Regarding the Mu'awiya theory by itself, Sir 
J. G. Frazer is more likely to be correct in saying 
that the name Yezidi was given to the tribes by the 
Muslims as a sign of reproach (owing to Husain's 
murder by the Caliph Yezid), than Badger, who 
thought that they adopted this name " to conciliate 


the bigotry and intolerance of their Muhammadan 
rulers." * Certainly no toleration has been shown 
by the Sunni Muslims of Shekhan (the principal 
Yezidi district in Kurdistan) whether they believe 
the origin of the Devil Worshippers is due to Yezid 
ibn Mu'awiya or no. 

The Muhammadan dogmatics assert that the 
Yezidis are what is known as murtaddun, or 
apostates, renegades, infidels, according to their 
theology, in that they (the Yezidis) once accepted 
the Islamic religion, and afterwards renounced it. 
They cannot, however, explain the origin of the 
word " Yezidi." 

Some of the visitors to the Yezidis' principal 
shrine are of the opinion that certain parts of the 
Temple which have escaped destruction bear traces 
of early Christian architecture, and this has led 
them to believe that the Yezidis were originally 
Christians, whose progressive ignorance brought 
them into their present condition. It is conceivable 
that the Temple may have originally been built by 
Christians before the Yezidis, in one of their raids 
on Christians (in retaliation for their persecution), 
seized the existing building and adapted it to their 

1 Nestorians and their Rituals, Vol. I, p. 129, by G. P. 
Badger, 1852. 


own use. In this connection the Eastern Christians 
say that the shrine was originally a Nestorian 
monastery, but that the monks were tempted by 
the Devil (who appeared to them as God) and left 
the building. The Saint who lived in the district 
may have himself appeared as the apparition. At 
any rate, he prophesied to his followers that the 
monks would leave the place, and they having done 
so, he himself entered. He instructed his followers 
to pull down the altar in the Church and on his 
death to bury him there, which was done. In support 
of this theory of the origin of the buildings, the 
Yezidis say that they have hidden away a Syrian 
inscription they found on entering. 

Then again, the tribe is said to take its name 
from the Persian word Yazdan, 1 which means God 
or the good spirit as against Ahriman, the evil one. 
If this is so, it is well known that what may be 
God in one religion (as Yazdan in Persian), meaning 
good spirit, supreme being or Lord of Heaven, 
may be exactly the opposite in another, such as 
may be the case with the Yezidis. Therefore, the 
evil spirit whom they worship would thus be their 

1 A Kurdish slave is mentioned in Edition Pognon (pp. 221- 
222) as changing his name from Battai to Yazdant, that is, 
" on a par with the Gods." Mingana in Journal of Royal 
Asiatic Society, 1916, Vol. II. 



" god " and be given the same appellation ; as an 
example, the Persian Parsees also worship Yezid 
Farfar, whom they recognize as an Evil Spirit, the 
Destroying God. 

An old Yezidi priest, on being questioned, said 
that the word Yezidi is supposed to have been 
derived from their ancient Kurdish name for God, 
namely 'Azed. He thought that as the counterpart 
of 'Azed is the Devil, who is colloquially known 
in Kurdish as Yazed, this had something to do 
with the name of the tribe. This is, of course, 
possible, bearing in mind that probably in its 
earliest form their religion was indistinguishable 
from pure Dualism. 

The most popular belief that has hitherto 
obtained regarding the name Yezidi was that the 
religion was founded by Sheikh 'Adi ibn Musafir, 
who died about 1162, and to whom most of the 
present religious practices are ascribed, but it is 
undoubtedly a fact that tribes of this name were 
existing long before his appearance. Although 
what may be called the Sheikh 'Adi theory is 
championed by a certain group, Dr. Joseph, an 
American writer, is correct in saying that though 
an Arab named Kasi Ahmad ibn Khallikan and 
others tell us details of Sheikh 'Adi's religious life, 


it does not follow that the Sheikh founded the 
Yezidi sect. Also, owing to their innate prejudice 
and perhaps egoism, the Yezidis have raised Sheikh 
'Adi to a deity, instead of properly regarding him 
merely as a saint. Dr. Joseph, indeed, a few years 
ago put forward a new and interesting theory. In 
effect, he says that the Yezidis are the followers 
of Yezid ibn 'Unaissa, who was friendly with the 
first Muhakkamah 1 before the Azarika. 3 Nothing 
much is known of this Yezid, and it is doubtful if 
any further information could be gleaned concern- 
ing his works. Dr. Joseph bases his theory on 
a statement made by Muhammad as-Sahrastani * 
(A.D. 1074-1133), and incidentally contemporary 
with Sheikh 'Adi (A.D. 1072-1162), who is con- 
sidered of the highest authority among Arab 
scholars on questions dealing with philosophical 
and religious sects, and who adds that it is evident 
Yezid was one of the al-Hawarij. The story goes 

1 The first Muhakkamah is the name given to a schismatic 
Muslim sect known as al-Hawarij, who disallowed the 
judgment of the Hakaham, saying that judgment should be 
God's. They say that every sin, small or great, is idolatry. 

8 The al-Azar!ka were also a Muslim sect (heretical) who 
declared that Muhammad's companions were infidel. 

Professor Mingana does not share Dr. Joseph's confidence 
that this statement ipso facto includes the modern Yezldts, 
and against as-Sahrastanl he sets the writings of Theodore 


that Yezid ibn 'Unaissa believed that God would 
send an apostle from Persia and would reveal to 
him a book already written, and as a result he, 
Yezid, would leave the religion of Muhammad, the 
Chosen One, and follow the religion of the Sabaeans 
mentioned in the Qur'an. 1 But Yezid associates 
himself with the people in the book, who recognized 
the Chosen One as a prophet, even though they 
did not accept his (Muhammad's) teaching. Yezid 
said that the followers .of the ordinances in the 
book were among those who agreed with him, but 
that the others (known in Arabic as Mushrik, those 
who give companions to God) were hiding in truth, 
and that every sin, small or great, is idolatry. 
This Arab mentions the first century of Islam as 
being the period in question. Part of this story 
is borne out by another authority, ibn Hazm, who 
lived a hundred years earlier, but this scholar 
gives the name as Zaid ibn 'Ubaissa. In order to 
correlate this, Dr. Joseph says that the word 
'Ubaissa should be read as 'Unaissa, as it is evident 
that ibn Hazm is at pains to distinguish the author 
of this unorthodox religion from the well-known 
traditionist of the name of Tabari ibn 'Unaissa. 

1 It is not clear which sect of Sabseans is intended, but it 
is immaterial. 


To clinch the matter, Joseph tells us as-Sahrastani 
definitely quotes that they (the Yezidis) are the 
followers (ashdb) of Yezid ibn 'Unaissa. 

It is possible, but by no means conclusive, that 
the Yezid referred to may have become identified 
with the tribes now known as Yezidis, and there 
is nothing to show that this particular theory 
should have precedence over any other hitherto 
expounded by those seeking to sift the wheat from 
the chaff. Who is the Persian apostle referred to 
by Yezid ibn 'Unaissa? It is not Sheikh 'Adi, 
for the supposed prediction was made over a 
century from his time and moreover the Saint is 
regarded as a Syrian. The Yezidis themselves 
are still waiting for the prophet to come and believe 
him to be a Persian. If any credence can be 
placed on as-Sahrastani's statement it is just likely 
that the apostle may be a Persian, and in connec- 
tion with this supposition, the following historical 
evidence may be worth recording. 

About six centuries or more B.C. Zoroaster 1 
was a teacher and instructor in Persia of the 
Magian religion, from which he borrowed some of 
their practices. Many Syrian Magi subsequently 

1 Professor Jackson gives the date of Zoroaster's birth as 
660 B.C., and his death 583 B.C. Mr. Springett gives the district 
of Adarbaijan, west of Media, as his birthplace. 


travelled to Persia and looked upon Zoroaster as 
a prophet. He believed that at the beginning 
of things there existed two spirits, Ahura Mazda 
(Ormazd) and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), respec- 
tively Good and Evil, who were continually at war. 
The existence of evil in the world he thus 
pre-supposed from all eternity. Both spirits 
possessed creative power which manifested itself 
in the one positively and in the other negatively. 
Ormazd is light and life and all that is true and 
good, and in the ethical world law, order and 
truth, and his antithesis is darkness, filth, death 
and all that is evil, and in the world, lawlessness 
and lies. Each had their minor spirits. 1 He 
further believed that man, being a free agent^will 
bring about the ultimate triumph of right. When 
the two were spoken of as a pair he did not 
mean twins, though later sects sought to rise 
from this Dualism to a higher eternity (thus the 
Zarvanites represented Ormazd and Ahriman as 
twin sons proceeding from the fundamental prin- 
ciple of Zarvana Akarana, or Limitless Time), Inci- 
dentally the Parsees in and around Bombay hold 
by Zoroaster as their prophet, but their doctrine 
has reached the stage of a pure monotheism. 

1 Ormazd was the chief of seven. 


The followers of Zoroaster have continued their 
practice of Dualism in Persia to this day, principally 
in the provinces of Yezd and Seistan. In the 
capital of Yezd, bearing the same name, there are 
1,300 Zoroastrians, and a few miles to the west 
there live in twenty-two villages 5,000, but in 
1879 the Zoroastrian community in this province 
numbered 6,483 and in 1892 there were 6,908. 
Thus, as a result of emigration to Western Syria 
and Northern Kurdistan, the natural increase of 
the population in Persia has been thereby dis- 

Some aspects of their religion are similar to 
that practised by the present-day Yezidi, namely 
the worship of fire. For instance, there are 
four fire temples in the city of Yezd, and the 
Zoroastrians, like the Yezidis, are exempted from 
military service. Mr. H. C. Luke, at one time 
Assistant Governor of Jerusalem, who has travelled 
in this district, is of the opinion that the principles 
of Good and Evil are derived from the Persian 
Dualists; also that the Yezidis may have drawn 
their cult of the Sun from Persia, as Uramiah, the 
birthplace of Zoroaster, is very near the Yezidi 
territory. This emigration to Kurdistan has been 
going on through persecution and oppression by 


heavy taxation, and owing to the fact that it is 
very difficult for them to exact a living from the 
soil because of the barrenness of the district. It 
is a fact that the inhabitants of the province of 
Seistan are only able to grow sufficient wheat for 
three months' supply each year and that the 
remainder has to be bought at inflated prices from 
more favoured districts. In this province more- 
over there are' a number of Devil Worshippers, 
who worship mulberry trees which are supposed to 
be inhabited by the spirit of Satan. Indeed, 
nature worship was practised by followers of 
Zoroaster in Persia until comparatively recent 
times and in this respect they shared common 
beliefs with the Yezidis. 

Doubtless in their wanderings to the north- 
west, the emigrant element (to some "extent 
recruited from Syria) lost some of their deep 
convictions as to the power of the Prince of Light 
due to the fact that he, despite their invocations, 
did not supply them with good harvests and 
they therefore relied more and more on the 
propitiation of the Prince of Darkness for their 
well-being. It is possible that they knew very 
little of their founder and their origin, and that 
after they emigrated from Yezd and other districts, 


they eventually became the founders of the cult 
known as Worshippers of the Evil One. 

In past times when the autocracy prevailing in 
Persia was even greater than at present, larger 
numbers probably left their country and settled in 
territory where they could escape from what they 
considered injustice, and what amounted to little 
more than slavery. Their hiding-places were 
naturally in the then almost inaccessible mountain- 
ous districts between Mosul, Aleppo and Lake Van, 
the Sinjar Range 1 and the Caucasus Range 
bordering the Black Sea. 

A modern writer combats this theory by 
stating that only in some phases does the YezidJ 
religion resemble that of the Persians. This may 
be true so far as modern Yezidi practices are 
concerned, but it is obvious that other elements 
have been since added, and that probably in its 
most elementary form nature worship formed the 
greater part of their tenets. This writer goes 
further and asks for an explanation of these traces 
of other religions. There is nothing to disprove 
that these traces were not added at the time Sheikh 
J AdJ identified himself with the sect, but, generally 

1 The Sinjar was not occupied by the Yezidls prior to the 
fifteenth century. 


speaking, primitive people are prone to add and 
take away certain doctrines of other religions 
which they consider subsidiary to their main 

What is known as the Persian theory, 1 so 
far as the present writer is concerned, to some 
extent revolves around the word Yezd, denoting a 
province and town of the same name. Although 
Dr. Joseph admits many Yezidis are of Persian 
stock, he does not consider this of material 
importance in tracing their origin, as he is of 
the opinion that many races have contributed 
their quota to the religion under review. It is, 
however, true to say that the Yezidis of Kurdistan 
are regarded as the most numerous and most 
influential, and they speak a dialect which is in 
common use in Persia north of Latitude 36. I 
do not think, however, that the language question 
is a vital one, as it is constantly being influenced 
by nomads. What I do consider of greater import 
is the fact that Persian Kurds, including those of 
the Yezidi faith, form the majority of the border 
and other tribes all along as far as the present 

1 A German writer regards them as descendants of the 
Mardi, an old Persian sect who worshipped the principle of 


Turkish frontier. The numbers of Syrians and 
Bedouins embracing Yezidism are practically 
negligible, and this fact does strengthen the theory 
that this religion was in existence before the coming 
of Sheikh 'Ad! from the West, as it is unlikely that 
he converted the Persian Muslims to Yeztdism. 

Professor A. V. W. Jackson of Columbia 
University, an eminent authority on Iranian 
religions, declares that Dualism originally formed 
the basis of certain resemblances between the old 
Persian and the Yezidi religions. 1 As to how 
Yezidism became identified with the Persians, 
whether in their own country or in Kurdistan, it is 
in accordance with human nature to believe that the 
" Persian Prophet " prediction made an impression 
among them, and that they consequently looked 
at Yezidism as a native cult. Such views may 
have led many Persian pagan fire and devil 
worshippers and Zoroastrians to embrace the new 
religion and subsequently to regard it as peculiarly 
their own. Badger, moreover, says that the 
religious systems of Yezidism and the old Magi 
took their rise from Zoroastrianism, and the later 
history of the Yezidis was influenced by their 

1 Mr. Springett says that the Lebanon YezidJs bear distinct 
traces of Persian origin. 


coming into contact with Christians and their 
partial subjection to Muslim rule, which accounts 
for any variation from the religion originally 
professed. Whether further research will tend to 
corroborate this theory or whether one of the other 
possibilities will be found more correct, history 
alone will tell. 

In order to arrive at a logical conclusion of the 
origin of the sect as a whole, a careful study of the 
racial characteristics should be made, as this is 
generally a surer guide to race origin in Asia Minor 
than the history of their language and religion. 
The Yezidis, who, in point of fact, know very little 
about themselves, have a tradition that they origin- 
ally came from Basra and that they emigrated to 
Syria and subsequently principally to the Jebel 
Sinjar (meaning Bird), and to the hills they now 
inhabit, but their method of reasoning or deduction 
is non-existent. 

Some writers assert that bearing in mind the 
peculiar nature of their tenets, they have a Sabaean 
or Chaldean origin, but they admit that many 
articles of the Yezidi doctrine are decidedly 
borrowed from other sects. As a matter of fact 
Chaldean Christians and Sabseans still exist in 
'Iraq ; the latter particularly along the banks of the 


Euphrates, and although innocent of Devil Worship 
they have certain characteristics in common with 
the Yezidis, notably in the ceremony of baptism. 

One writer has also endeavoured to connect the 
Yezidis, who are certainly hairy, with the old 
Assyrians, who on their monuments are usually 
depicted with beards. 

As far as the Yezidis themselves are concerned, 
owing to the lack of documents and the ignorance 
prevailing amongst them, they are unable to come 
to any probable conclusion as to their origin. The 
priests claim that they are descendants of Noah 
through Na'umi, supposed to be known as the 
Malik Miran, or the King of the Mirs, but it may 
be that they refer to his sons, Ham or Japheth. 
They add that Shem, another son of Noah, who, 
according to the Yezidi tradition, reyiled his father, 
was himself the Father of all other nations, thus 
exalting themselves and placing all others in a 
lower category. 1 

So far as legend and mythology is concerned, 
the following story of these remarkable people, 
however fantastic, is of interest. It is believed by 

1 Joseph mentions Seth as one of Noah's sons. This is 
probably a typographical error and should be " one of Adam's 


some of their tribes that there were seventy-two 
Adams, who each lived ten thousand years. 
Between the lifetime of each Adam, another ten 
thousand years elapsed, during which time there 
were no inhabitants on earth. Each Adam was 
more perfect than the last, and the Yezidis claim 
that they are descendants of the last of the seventy- 
two. The world is, therefore, according to them, 
nearly one and a half million years old. The last 
Adam married Eve, who was barren, so a heavenly 
idamsel named Huriya came from Paradise with a 
cavalier named Jinnis, to be his second wife. Eve 
was washing clothes in the river when these, two 
appeared, and although Jinnis was rather abashed, 
he explained his mission and introduced the maiden 
to Eve. Eve, naturally, averse from being sup- 
planted, cunningly suggested that she herself 
should go on ahead to the house and warn her 
husband, and to prepare the place for the damsel's 
reception. It is recounted that she hurried home, 
told Adam of the meeting and made him swear that 
he would not so much as look at Hfiriya. The 
latter, therefore, lived with Adam and Eve, but was 
a bride in name only. Naturally after a time there 
was tension in the household, and E&e, during a 
quarrel with Adam, declared that she alone ha'd the 


power of reproduction, adding that Adam had 
nothing to do with it. The angel Jabra'il there- 
upon placed blood from the forehead of Eve and 
Adam into four jars, two for Eve and two for Adam. 
These jars were sealed, marked and placed in 
camel dung and after nine months opened. Eve's 
jars were barren, but Adam's contained a boy 
called Shahid Jayar son of the jar, and a girl, 
who were suckled by Adam and from whom sprang 
the race of the Yezidis. Legend does not say what 
became of Huriya, but apparently Eve with Shem's 
help bore Cain and Abel, whom the Yezidis disown. 

Pure fantasy is shown in two further examples of 
Yezidi belief. Some think that the original Yezidi 
was born when Adam first spat. The spittle was 
supposed immediately to become a child. Another 
story some of the tribes retail is in connection with 
their sacred symbol, Melak Ta'us. In some way 
they identify the god Yezid with Melak Ta'us, as 
half angel and half man. He is supposed to have 
remained a bachelor until after Adam's marriage. 
Being half a divinity and unable to marry a mortal, 
he induced Melak Ta'us to introduce him to a hfai> 
from whom their race sprang. 

From the maze of conflicting information some 
things are certain; Yezidism is a survival of the 


ancient pagans; 1 this sect at one time concealed 
their religion as much as possible by the use of 
Holy Names in order to escape persecution; and 
in particular they have always avoided the Persian 
and Mesopotamian Muslims, who execrate them for 
what they consider the infamous acts of their 
alleged founder, Yezid ibn Mu'awiya. 

1 The religion of the Qizilbash of the Angora district in 
Asia Minor is probably another survival. They now " worship 
a large black dog, in which they see the image of the Divinity." 



ALTHOUGH the Yezidis will not receive converts to 
their faith, they are to some extent willing- to talk 
of their religious and secular life, and within the 
last twenty years observers of their customs have 
thrown a certain amount of light on their unwritten 
laws. It would, however, require a long residence 
among the various tribes to be fully cognizant of 
all their idiosyncrasies. 

The waters which flow through the Temple of 
Sheikh 'Adi are alone used to perform the rite of 
baptism. Children born close to the shrine are 
taken as soon as possible after seven days to the 
sacred stream, placed on a plate shaped like a cock, 
and there immersed three times. After the second 
immersion the priest conducting the baptism 
declares the child to be a follower of Yezid, and 
hopes that the infant may in future make himself 

or herself a martyr for its faith. Those born in the 

49 D 


Sinjar and other distant places are visited by a 
Qauwal (priest) and baptized from a skin filled 
with the Holy Water. In addition all new clothes 
are baptized, and particularly devout Yezidis also 
immerse their knives and razors in Sheikh 'Adi 
water before use. 

No one can enter the valley of Sheikh 'Adi 
whether on feast days or, not, without having first 
by means of water purified his body and clothes, 
and arrangements for this exist a mile or so from 
the Temple. These washings are not thought to 
have emanated from the sacrament of Holy 
Baptism, but are purely devotional acts. 

One of the peculiarities regarding baptism is 
that the Christian name of Gurgis (George) is 
never given to a boy, as for some reason it 
is objectionable. 

All adults theoretically fast for forty days in the 
Spring, but actually this is not observed, and one 
person in a family can fast for the remainder. 1 
In any case the fast is not so stringent as that 
practised by pious Shi'as during Ramazan. Some 
believe that God commanded them to fast, saying 

1 The Yezidis in this respect follow the precepts of Zoroaster, 
who condemned fasting as a criminal rejection of the best gifts 
of Providence. 


in Kurdish " Se rosh," meaning " three days," 
and that the Muslims, not understanding the 
language, thought He said " Si rosh " meaning, 
"thirty days." A variant of this belief is that 
God said " thirty days," but Yezid, who was 
rather deaf, understood the period to be three 
days. The general opinion, however, is that the 
three days' fast observed in. December is in 
commemoration of Yezid's death. The Chief 
Sheikh fasts for a month in the year, during which 
time he eats but once each twenty-four hours, and 
then after sunset. 

One of the principal duties (mentioned 'else- 
where) of the Qauwals on tour is the collection of 
offerings. These moneys are allocated as follows : 
one half for the support of the tomb of Sheikh 'Adi ; 
a quarter to the Mir and the remaining quarter is 
shared by the Qauwals responsible for its collec- 
tion. In practice there does not appear to be any 
difficulty about this, as the honesty of the collectors 
is unquestionable. In addition to this there are 
contributions from tribes visiting Sheikh 'Adi 
during festivals. 

Although opinions differ on the subject, in the 
absence of any written instructions to the contrary, 
it is not considered unlawful for Yezidis to read 


and write. As a matter of fact, however, it will 
at once be realized that such accomplishments 
are virtually unnecessary owing to the primitive 
conditions prevailing in the villages, and the 
priests are the only class who show any interest in 
the matter and then only in connection with 
the chanting and singing on festival days. In 
Layard's time there were only one or two who 
could read and write, and even those learnt the 
art only in order that they might preserve the 
sacred books and refer to them when necessary. 

Until recent times there was no recognized 
currency, and even to-day barter is to a great 
extent indulged in. Turkish and Indian coinage 
is, however, occasionally used. 

The Yezidis, in fashion of the Baluch tribes of 
Sind in India, generally let their hair fall in 
ringlets over their ears, and wear a straggling 
beard. Their disposition is frank and confident, 
and they (especially the Persian element) usually 
have short legs and a swarthy complexion. The 
dress of the men resembles that of the Persian 

The offerings to Melak Ta'us evince them- 
selves in strange ways, a notable case being at 
Dair Ast in the Sin jar, where in a secret cleft in 


the rocks the Yezidis have from time immemorial 
thrown their tokens of propitiation. In this cleft 
also those afflicted with the influence of the 
" Evil Eye " deposit their gifts in order to alleviate 
their misfortune. 

The only sacrificial offering the Yezidis make 
is, strangely enough, not to Melak Ta'us but to 
the Sun. Every year, during the July festival, a 
white ox, dedicated to this God, whose name is 

Sheikh Shamsu'ddin, the Sun of the Faith, is 

.- ' x 

slain at Sheikh 'Adi and the flesh distributed to 

poor pilgrims. The chosen animal has previously 
been led round the base of the fluted spire of 
the shrine erected near the Holy Temple. The 
offerings in kind to the shrine chiefly consist of 
lamps and wood ; the latter is stacked at the south- 
east corner of the Temple, and is only used for 
roasting the ox mentioned above. 

During festivals, a noticeable custom consists 
of men and women passing their right hands 
through the flame of the lamps held by the Faqirs 
(priests), and, after rubbing the right eyebrow 
with the part which has thus been purified, they 
devoutly carry it to their lips. It was at one time 
thought that this was part of the festival ritual, 
but there is no special significance in it beyond the 


fact that the flame is lit from Sheikh 'Adi olive 
oil and is thus reverenced. 

Circumcision is not universally carried out, and 
it is believed the Yezidis originally instituted the 
practice in order, to some extent, to conciliate the 
followers of Muhammad. Males are circumcised 
within twenty days of being baptized, after which 
the child's father entertains all present for a week. 
Later gifts are made to the two officiating 

The qibla (orientation) of the Yezidis differs 
from that of other religions and is the Pole Star, 1 
whereas, of course, the Jews face Jerusalem and 
Muslims the Ka'ba at Mecca during prayer. 

White linen spotlessly clean and cared for 
means much to the average Yezidi, and at festivals 
he will see that he is not outshone in this 

The Yezidi New Year, called the Sarisdl, is 
the first Wednesday in April, when the womenkind 
gather nosegays of red flowers and after three days 
hang them on their doors as a sign of baptism. 
The Qauwals play timbrels on this day, but no 
instruments of joy are allowed, as God is supposed 

1 One writer, however, states that it is " the East," another 
that it is towards the sun. 


to be sitting on his throne arranging decrees for 
the coming year. 

Wednesday is their weekly holiday, and this 
day and Friday are Holy Days, but they are not 
forbidden to work on these days if necessary. 

Some tribes have special customs peculiar to 
themselves. For instance the Halitiya tribes at 
Diarbekr observe Eucharist in a crude manner, 
and those at Redwan do not practise circumcision. 
The Haidi tribe when at the height of their power 
used to go through the following ceremony at 
festivals at Sheikh 'AdJ. All of the tribe having 
arrived, they ascended the escarpment on either 
side of the Temple, and those having firearms 
placed small oak twigs in the muzzles and 
discharged them into the air for about half an hour. 
They then congregated in the outer court and 
again fired their weapons. After entering the 
inner court they went through a martial dance. 
This ended, a bull was led from the Temple. 
Some members of the tribe rushed upon the animal 
with shouts, and seizing it, led it in triumph to 
their Sheikh, from whom they received a present, 
usually a sheep. The women of the tribe mean- 
while made tahlil (a shrill chant) without ceasing 
until the end of the proceedings. This tribe was 


formerly most powerful, but its members have been 
so greatly reduced by wars and oppression that the 
practice has now ceased. 

Oaths are administered by drawing a circle on 
the ground round the person about to be sworn, 
and he is told " All within this circle is the property 
of Melak Ta'us, answer falsely if you 'dare." 
Needless to say, the barest mention of this deity 
suffices to draw out the truth. 

One of their prized privileges is exemption from 
military service. In 1872 the Turks wanted them 
to serve in their army, but fourteen reasons were 
advanced by them for not so doing and for paying 
a tax instead. The petition was signed by the 
then Mir, Husain; Sheikh Nasir, Pir Sulaiman and 
other chiefs of many villages in the Sheikhan 
district including Musikan, Hatara, Baiban, 
Dahkan, Huzran, Ba-qasra, Ba Sheikha, Hosaba, 
Kara Pahu, Kabbara, 'Ain Sifni, Hairo and 
Kibartu. The chief reason was as follows; every 
Muslim twelve times a day is accustomed to say, 
" Take refuge with Allah from Shaitdn ar-rashim " 
(Satan the Stoned), and a Yezidi who hears this 
from one of his erstwhile comrades is supposed 
to either kill him or commit suicide. It is, 
therefore, for the good of all concerned that 


the Yezidi need not serve and thus be out of 

When the marriage engagement of a young 
couple is imminent a day is mutually agreed on 
for the man to present a ring to the girl, and the 
remainder of the day is spent in rejoicings in the 
village. Three days before the marriage all the 
male friends and relations of the groom assemble 
at his father's house and there indulge in festivities. 
'Arak, the national alcoholic drink, is partaken of 
freely, to the accompaniment of singing and music. 
Afterwards the women in pairs ride together on 
horseback and likewise also the men. When they 
reach the bride's house, the men discharge their 
guns; hearing the sound the girl's father comes 
out and asks them what they want. They reply in 
unison, "Your daughter." The girl's mother 
then/ puts a red veil over her daughter and 
together her parents lead her out. The village 
boys assembled outside the house then enter, 
each taking a spoon fronT the living-room and 
putting it in his turban. 

The bridegroom now claims the girl, and on 
her way to his father's house she must make 
obeisance at the shrine of every idol she may 
happen to pass, even though it be a Christian 


Church. 1 On arriving at the bridegroom's house 
he must hit her with a small stone as a sign of his 
authority. Moreover, a loaf of bread is broken 
over her head as a sign that she must love the poor 
and needy. There are the customary dances in 
the village, and afterwards the bride is covered 
from head to foot by a thick veil and is placed 
behind a curtain in the corner of a darkened room. 
Here she remains for three days, seeing nobody 
except a female servant, while the guests feast. 
On the afternoon of the third day the prospective 
bridegroom is led in triumph by his friends from 
house to house, receiving at each a trifling present. 
He is then placed within a circle of dancers, and 
the guests and bystanders, wetting small coins, 
stick them on his forehead. These are then 
collected as they fall in an open handkerchief held 
by his companions under his chin. 

On the evening of the third day the priest, 
usually a Qauwal but when there is not one avail- 
able, the leading man of the village solemnizes 
the marriage, takes the bridegroom to the bride, 
and, joining their hands, asks them whether they 
wish to marry. On receiving an affirmative answer 

1 In Kurdistan any Christian shrine, believed to be endowed 
with healing properties, is visited by all races indiscriminately. 


he marks their shoulders and foreheads with red 
ink, and hands them a stick, which they break. A 
loaf of bread taken from a Kuchak's house is 
equally divided into two and given to the contract- 
ing parties to eat, but should they so desire, they 
may swallow in its stead some dust from Sheikh 
'Adi's shrine or tomb as a blessing. The bride- 
groom then gives a silk handkerchief as a present 
to his bride. The bride is not usually veiled during 
the ceremony. 

The priest then locks them in a room. The 
bridegroom knocks at the door three times, and the 
priest, hearing this, fires a gun, the bystanders 
following his example. The Qauwal now sends 
them home, and as they cross the threshold of the 
house in which they intend to live a sheep is slain 
in their honour. For seven days they do no work. 

No Yezidi may cohabit with his wife on Tues- 
day and Thursday nights, which are holy. Should 
a Yezidi abduct the wife of another he must pay 
the full price of the woman or give his sister, 
daughter or mother instead. 

Although concubines are not actually forbidden, 
they are rarely heard of; and this is not surprising, 
as a man, with the consent of his Sheikh, may have 
a wife every year up to a limit of six if he so desires. 


If the husband is absent from his wife for a year 
he cannot on his return claim her, as his marriage 
is automatically annulled. Moreover he cannot 
marry another woman without her parents' consent, 
as they would become infidel. 

Nowadays a discarded wife (aza) cannot marry 
again, and when the Yezidis made their own 
temporal laws, the wife was punished with death 
for infidelity. Married women at least for a year 
or two after their marriage wear white clothes, and 
they also wear a fine white handkerchief close up 
under their chins. Marriage is forbidden during 
the month of April, except for Qauwals. 

Marriage was formerly a luxury, especially in 
the Sinjar, owing to the insistence of the girl's 
father that her dowry (alam) provided by her 
future husband or his parents should be ample, as 
is the custom in India. If he eloped with her, her 
people could claim a double dowry. If an elope- 
ment was intended, the prospective husband hired 
the strong men of his village, who protected them 
during the flight. Usually the girl's father and his 
relations pursued them, and if they were caught 
bloodshed sometimes ensued. On the other hand, 
if they succeeded in escaping, they returned after 
a time and were forgiven, as according to an old 


Kurdish proverb, "Everything is forgiven the 

Ideas as to dowry, of course, vary according 
to the social position of the contracting parties, but 
there is no doubt that these were formerly much 
too high. 1 Hamo Shero, the paramount Sheikh 
of the Sinjar, is of the opinion that one thousand 
five hundred rupees in kind or money is sufficient 
for the highest born. Daughters may not inherit 
the father's wealth. In former days a girl could 
be sold like an acre of land, and if she refused she 
. had to redeem herself by paying her father a sum 
of money, usually earned by her service. 

Finally a layman cannot marry a Sheikh's or 
Pir's daughter, nor can a Sheikh's or Pir's son 
marry a layman's daughter. Death is the only 
punishment for a layman if he violates the .law in 
this respect. The Qauwal and Kuchak classes are, 
however, regarded as common people. 

The funeral ceremonies for departed Yezidis 
are quaint. They vary according to age and rank 
of the dead man, and to some extent in different 

1 The reason for high dowries may have been that in India : 
to prevent desertion of the wife. During cohabitation the 
dowry is not demanded, but on divorce it becomes enforceable, 
and is then ruinous to the husband. 


tribes. The following account is that of a man of 
fairly prosperous family living in the Sheikhan 

district. A Yezidi after death is washed by his Pir 
in pure water, preferably running, or if not obtain- 
able, boiling, and laid on a kifri (white sheet). 
Cakes of Sheikh 'Adi clay are placed in his mouth, 
under his arms and on other portions of his body, 
and the sheet is folded over and sewn up at the 
side and ends. A strip of linen, four fingers in 
breadth, is then wound twice round the sheet and 
tied under the body. After being placed on a bier, 
he is taken in procession to a prearranged place 
just outside the village. The widow, attired in 
white, on leaving her house throws dust over her 
head, which is also smeared with clay, and accom- 
panied by her female friends she meets the official 
mourners, and all dance round the bier. The body 
is then taken to the cemetery, with the people 
chanting the while, the widow accompanying the 
procession with her late husband's sword or knife 
in one hand and long locks from her own hair in 
the other. The procession having arrived at the 
burial ground, the body is placed in an open grave, 
lying on its right side, with the head towards the 
south. The shroud is lifted from the face and more 
Sheikh 'Adi earth is sprinkled thereon. The head 


is now placed in a small hole scooped out at one 
end of the grave. Large stones and boulders are 
placed in the grave to prevent the earth, as far as 
possible, from touching the corpse, and the hole 
then completely filled in, with no apertures. On 
the grave are placed loaves, cheese and a go pal (a 
stick having a crook). A Faqir then prays, saying 
to the dead man, "When Nakir and Nakir (the 
Archangels) come to you, offer them bread and 
cheese, and if they are not satisfied with this, beat 
them with the gopal" The two archangels are 
then supposed to descend, and one questions the 
deceased, asking him his name and what deeds he 
has done, while the other writes down the answers 
in a book to show to God. Sometimes gold coins 
are buried with the body as a reward for their 

Mourning for the departed lasts three days, the 
women meanwhile wailing and throwing Sheikh 
'Adi earth over themselves. Sometimes a Kuchak 
is hired for the funeral ceremony, when he accom- 
panies the body to the grave and places offerings 
on other graves. He is then asked by the dead 
man's relatives for particulars concerning the 
rebirth of the dead man's soul. He goes into a 
room set apart, prays to the Yezidi saints, falls into 


a kind of fit, foams at the mouth, and is supposed 
to communicate with the next world. After the 
fit has passed he sleeps quietly until revived with 
drink by the relatives of the dead man. If the latter 
was of good character, and the offerings of the 
relatives satisfactory, the soul's rebirth is allowed 
to take place in Heaven, but if the deceased was 
a bad man, the Kuchak informs the relatives that 
the soul has passed into the body of an animal. 
The relatives, however, may expiate this by sub- 
sequent offerings to shrines. In any case, the 
deceased's clothes and a year's maintenance must 
be given to his Sheikh, and at each new moon for 
the current year the poor must be entertained in 
the dead man's name. It therefore appears to be 
a somewhat expensive journey for the soul satis- 
factorily to reach its desired destination. 

A distinctive mark by which all Yezidis may 
be recognized at a glance is the shirt, which, by 
one of their laws, they are forbidden to wear open 
in front, and it is thus always kept closed up to 
the neck. They are told they will have a sister 
in the next world who is directed to open the 

Generally, tribes farthest removed from the 
direct influence of the Mir have gradually adopted 


certain peculiarities in dress, customs and religious 
outlook. Possibly, were it not for the periodic 
visits of the Sheikh 'Adi Qauwals, they would in 
time lose touch with the teachings expounded in 
their Holy Books, copies of which are unobtainable. 



THE total number of Yezidis in the early days of 
the last century was probably 150,000, but through 
oppression and massacre 40,000 is an outside figure 
at the present day. 1 Of this number, the Mosul 
Vilayet contains about 25,000, of whom roughly 
17,500 are comprised of sedentary tribes of the 
Sinjar range 2 (about fifty miles long and nine miles 
broad), and about 7,500 are scattered along the 
Jebel Maklub and the foothills of the Kurdistan 
highlands, principally in the Sheikhan district, 
where many of their Sheikhs are buried. 

Tribes numbering perhaps 10,000 are found in 
North Syria (Damascus), North Kurdistan (Boktan, 
Kherzan, Diarbekr and Redwan), Aleppo and 
Teheran districts. About twenty years ago there 
were nearly 15,000 in South Russia living chiefly 

1 The only definite figures I have come across are those of 
Dr. Joseph, giving the number of Yezfdl inhabitants as 42,000, 
living in 86 villages and 650 tents. 

1 About eighty-three miles from Mdsul. 



in Tiflis and on the slopes of the Caucasus, but 
this number has since been reduced to a third 
through the Bolshevik and subsequent revolutions. 
The town of Belad, 1 famous for its figs, in the 
Sirijar district of the Mosul Vilayet, is generally 
known as their secular headquarters, but there is 
no organized system of administration as understood 
by civilized peoples. The Paramount Sheikh lives 

at Milik near by. 

The districts north and north-east of M6sul 
which come more directly under the influence of 
the Mir are Ba Idhra (where the Mir lives), Ba'zani 
(their principal burial-place), Ba Sheikha (contain- 
ing many Sheikhs' tombs), Semil and Derebun. 
The purely religious side is chiefly centred at 
Sheikh 'Adi (the Mecca of Yezidi pilgrims) and 
Mihrka (East Sin jar). 

The chief tribes in Kurdistan are Sheikhan 
(sixteen villages), Dunadi, in the district of Dohuk 
(fifteen villages), Sohrani (fifteen villages), Missuri 
(about ten villages), Samaki, in the district of 
Midy&t (six villages), Amu'ad, in the district of 

1 The British opened a school here in 1919. It did not long 
survive, as four pupils were drowned .in a swollen stream 
they were fording on their way there, and the Yezidls thus 
regarded their innate aversion from learning to be divinely 



al-Qaus (four hundred tents), Rashukn in, the 
district of Jezira (one hundred and fifty tents) and 
Havveri in the district of Zakho (one hundred 
tents). There are also nomadic tribes, the chief 
being the Huwari, whose district is chiefly Zakho. 
The general name for those tribes, not sufficiently 
important to warrant special notice is Dasni. 1 
The tent-living tribes are known generally as 
Kuchar. There are also a few detached colonies 
isolated among Turks and Christians. 

The chief tribes in the Sinjar are the Heska, 
Mendka, Hubaba, Mihrka (guarding the eastern 
end of the range), Bukra, a small but fierce tribe 
guarding the northern end, al-Dakhi, also guarding 
the north, Samukha to the north-west, guarding the 
west, and the Kiran to the south-west, guarding the 
south. Other tribes are Jowana, who occupy six 
villages in the north, Gabara (two villages), and 
the al-Daghi, Chalka, Faqtr, Jabri and Uleki, all 
of one village each. 

The extreme western part of the Sinjar is chiefly 
inhabited by the Kherraniya tribes. The Sinjar 
has always been a refuge for the more oppressed 
tribes to the north. 

1 This may have been derived from Dasn&yt, the Syriac 
tribal name of the Yezidi Kurds. 


The Sinjar tribes which appear to have died 
out are the Balt-Khalad and the Amera. It is also 
possible that there may be other tribes living in 
the fastnesses of the country south of the Caspian 
Sea who practise a form of Devil Worship, but 
every decaHe or so in the past there has been conflict 
between them and the followers of Islam, and only 
those protected by their natural strongholds in the 
mountains of Kurdistan exist in any number. 



THE religion of the worship of the Devil is probably 
an offshoot of the doctrine of Dualism, which in the 
dawn of creation was professed by several ancient 
peoples. They vaguely recognized that earthly 
existence to some extent was connected with the 
warring elements of Good and Evil, and that 
offerings must be made to the spirits of both. 
The principles of the religion of Mani (Manes, 
Manichaeus), was to a certain extent a revival of 
it in the Syrian form, and this system of religion 
in the fourth and fifth centuries became so powerful 
as almost to rival Christianity itself. There was 
another sporadic revival of it in the twelfth century 
in Syria. 

It is undoubtedly a fact that at the beginning 
of the fourth century Manichaeism in Western Asia 
was an almost universal religion. It was essentially 
Dualistic and a certain part of it was founded 

on Chaldaism, but later was impregnated with 



Christian, Parsic and perhaps Buddhistic ideas. 
In Manichaeism the Hellenic element was absent, 
but it bore traces of the Chaldaeo-Persian religion. 
Little is known regarding the source of Mani's 
beliefs, but the Magi to some extent shaped his 
teachings. His name has not as yet been explained, 
nor is it known whether he is of Persian or Semitic 
origin. A Persian of this name was born at 
Eebatana in A.D. 216, where he may have absorbed 
some of the ideas of the Persian Dualists. He was 
educated at Ctesiphon, near Baghdad, and started 
teaching in 242. He returned to Ctesiphon in 270, 
and was crucified seven years later. 

Although the Manichaeistia system consists 
largely of uncompromising Dualism, it is in the 
form of a fantastic philosophy of nature. Thus, 
Adam is a discordant being, created in the image 
of Satan, but carrying within him the stronger spark 
of light. Eve is given him by Satan as his com- 
panion who bore him Seth (a name meaning full 
of light). The Manichaeans believe that Cain and 
Abel are not the sons of Adam and Eve, but of 
Satan and Eve. Heavenly bodies are regulated 
by different shares of light (something in the nature 
of an aura), and Satan was thus allotted a large 


Towards the close of the tenth century the 
Manichaeans in Persia and Mesopotamia had already 
been in a large measure ousted from the towns and 
had withdrawn to the villages. From this time the 
cult, due to outside influences, steadily dwindled. 

Dualistic practices are also found in the teachings 
of Zoroaster, who also absorbed much of the Magian 
religion. It is thought that Zoroastrianism was one 
of the elements borrowed by Mani, and that during 
his travels, becoming aware that Dualism was the 
most popular religion among the people of Western 
Asia, he added beliefs of his own and welded 

Devil Worship also existed in Shamanism, a 
form of Animism. Indeed, this religion is some- 
times called pure Devil Worship, but in reality the 
Shaman (Turkish, Kam), who is a wizard-priest, 
closely akin to the medicine-man of savage tribes 
in other parts of the world, deals with good as well 
as evil spirits. The epithet of Devil Worship as 
applied to Altaian-Shamanism is so far justified that 
the great enemy of man, Erlik, the king of the lower 
world, from whom death and all evils come, is 
much courted, addressed as father and guide, and 
propitiated with offerings. He is not, however, a 
power co-ordinate with the Good God, Kaira Khan, 




Towards the close of the tenth century the 
Manichseans in Persia and Mesopotamia had already 
been in a large measure ousted from the towns and 
had withdrawn to the villages. From this time the 
cult, due to outside influences, steadily dwindled. 

Dualistic practices are also found in the teachings 
of Zoroaster, who also absorbed much of the Magian 
religion. It is thought that Zoroastrianism was one 
of the elements borrowed by Mani, and that during 
his travels, becoming aware that Dualism was the 
most popular religion among the people of Western 
Asia, he added beliefs of his own and welded 

Devil Worship also existed in Shamanism, a 
form of Animism. Indeed, this religion is some- 
times called pure Devil Worship, but in reality the 
Shaman (Turkish, Kam), who is a wizard-priest, 
closely akin to the medicine-man of savage tribes 
in other parts of the world, deals with good as well 
as evil spirits. The epithet of Devil Worship as 
applied to Altaian-Shamanism is so far justified that 
the great enemy of man, Erlik, the king of the lower 
world, from whom death and all evils come, is 
much courted, addressed as father and guide, and 
propitiated with offerings. He is not, however, a 
power co-ordinate with the Good God, Kaira Khan, 


who created Erlik and afterwards banished him 
underground for his evil deeds. 

Many Orientals say that the Yezidis were 
originally Christians, who have forgotten the funda- 
mental principles of their faith, basing this belief 
on the fact that Dasni (as they are generally known) 
was the name of a Nestorian diocese, which 
disappeared at the time the Yezidis first appeared, 
but they do not give the date of the occurrence. 
They also say that in the Sin jar there is an old 
Syriac library guarded by the Yezidis, which is 
supposed to base been inherited from their fore- 
fathers, who, the Yezidis say, were originally 
Eastern Christians. Further, a few Yezidi villages 
bear old Syriac names. 

Dr. Joseph, basing his assertion on the statements 
of as-Sahrastani, thinks that the Devil Worship of 
the Yezidis was originally practised by a Kharijite 
sub-sect, akin to the Abadiya, bearing the name of 
their founder, Yezid ibn 'Unaissa. He says that 
certain distinctive Kharijite peculiarities seem to 
have out-lived the common faith of Islam, such as 
the tolerant judgment of Jews and Christians and 
the condemnation of every sin as implicit idolatry. 
He thinks that in their new seats in Kurdistan they 
were drawn in the fourteenth century into the 


movement of which Sheikh 'Adi was in his lifetime 
the leader, and after his death the Saint. He goes 
on to say that this sub-sect eventually ended by 
making him the incarnation of God in the present 
age. With this they joined elements drawn from 
Christianity, with here and there a trace of Judaism, 
and with survivals of the persistent old Semitic 
heathenism, many of which they share with their 
neighbours of all creeds. 

Whether we can take it that as-Sahrastani is 
correct or not in identifying the Kharijites with the 
Yezidis, the propitiation of the Evil One was 
avowedly one of the tenets of the old Persian 
Dualists, who also professed nature worship. This 
basis, grafted on to the Shi'as' ideas of dissimulation 
of doctrine, human sacrifice and transmigration 
adopted from the pre-Islamic pagans, and the 
teachings of the Jews who identified Ahriman the 
evil principle, with Satan, and their principles 
regarding food-prohibition, together with their 
practices of circumcision and blood offering 
(obtained possibly from the Mosaic ritual), added 
to observance of Christian belief so far as the 
divinity of its Founder is concerned although 
they consider Melak Tav'us a greater spirit- 
baptism, and a respect for the Sign of the Cross, 


and the whole moulded by a form of Gnosticism, 
practically makes up the principles of the Yezidis' 

Little study is necessary to make it abundantly 
clear that their religion is syncretic, to which at 
various periods, the teachings of Sheikh 'Adi and 
heretical Christian, pagan and Persian Dualistic 
influences have undoubtedly contributed. It is, 
however, difficult to imagine how such a strange 
compound inspires the Yezidis with fortitude in face 
of oppression, but the smallness of their population 
is in no small measure due to the fact that they are 
nearly all martyrs to their cause. The two big 
massacres of 1845 an d 1892 would have put an end 
to a sect less strongly imbued with the essential 
spirit of unity. 

It is by no means conclusively proved that any 
one founder of a religion was indirectly the cause 
of the rise of the Yezidi Devil Worship, which first 
evinced itself in sufficient strength to have a definite 
religious centre about the middle of the tenth 
century. On the other hand, one has not to look 
far to point to religions which were essentially 
Dualistic. Even now the Yezidi creed does not 
deny the existence of Jesus, though it is true no 
propitiary form of worship is accorded him. 


Owing to the lack of authentic documents deal- 
ing with the rise and growth of this form of Devil 
Worship, one is forced to admit that history has 
apparently not considered these tribes worthy of 
serious attention. 



As usually understood by civilized peoples, the 
Yezidis have no religion and no God, but they have 
a creed and form of worship of the Principle of 
Evil, which is more propitiatory than eucharistic. 
They definitely recognize that all forms of "bad 
luck " are instigated by a deity whose very name 
they are forbidden to mention, and they believe 
that Shaitan is endowed with great power in this 
respect. They therefore conceive it their 'duty to 
ward off danger by a careful avoidance of anything 
likely to cause offence to the Evil One. As their 
great object is to secure and retain the capricious 
favour of this Deity, their conciliatory attitude 
towards the Devil is thus governed rather by fear 
than love. 

They, for the most part, believe that the Devil is 
a fallen angel, but God reinstated him in heavenly 
rank and forbade the angels to scorn him ; mankind 

should not therefore treat the power of evil lightly. 



It is largely this belief that has given rise to the 
idea that they are purely Devil Worshippers. 1 At 
the same time they do not deny the existence of 
Jesus and Muhammad, but their full power in this 
world they believe to be very limited and they are 
therefore relegated to the position of prophets. 
God is considered to be a remote Being, and not 
of this world. 

Shaitan is the Arabic for Satan, and the utter- 
ance of this word is apparently a disrespect to the 
Prince of Darkness, of which no Yezidi would be 
guilty. Neither would he malign the Devil and 
make him the scapegoat for his own shortcomings. 
Followers of this belief may be said to agree that 
his (Shaitan's) virtues are negative, but that his 
evil qualities may be rendered negative by 
propitiation also. 

The Yezidis' belief in the transmigration of 
souls has an interesting origin. The story goes 
that a sister of Mansur al-Hallaj 2 was filling her 

1 It is, however, the case that owing to the geographical 
position of most of their tribes, the Yezidis actually show 
some surviving traces of the old Devil Worship anathematized 
by Zoroaster. 

3 Husain ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (the wool-carder) was 
executed at Bagdad on 26th March, 922, for pretending he 
was God. The usual story is that the Caliph ordered him to 
be decapitated and his head to be thrown in the Tigris. 


jar in a river when the soul of her brother came 
floating along and entered the jar. After drinking 
the water, she became pregnant and gave birth to 
a son. Mansur al-Hallaj is also held responsible 
for the origin of one of their fetishes. When the 
head of Mansur was thrown into the water, it 
gurgled, and for this reason they never use drink- 
ing vessels having narrow mouths, as they also 
gurgle when being filled from running water. 

There is no order of prayer or command to 
pray in their holy books, and as they believe that 
Melak Ta'us is sufficiently powerful to save them, 
Yezidis are never seen at prayer, which they regard 
as a superfluous form of worship. Actual worship 
entirely consists of the hymns sung by the Qauwals 
and the religious rites practised by pilgrims at 

They have commandments concerning cleanli- 
ness, but not godliness. There is no implied order 
for a Yezidi to love his neighbour as it has to come 
from his heart. Nearly every thought and action 
centres on the shrine of Sheikh 'Adi, and in this 
connection he is told to obey and pay the priests. 
Thus, between 1 5th and 2Oth September all must 
visit Sheikh 'Adi, when Sheikh 'Adi dust must be 
eaten daily; moreover, they must possess some at 


death. Religious duties take up a considerable 
amount of time and money, and it is computed that 
the average Yezidi spends a quarter of his income 
in fees, doles and alms connected with the shrines. 
It is unusual for uncharitableness to exist in any 
degree amongst their tribes and they are firm 
believers in charity beginning at home. For 
instance, he must kiss his brother's hand daily, also 
that of his Pir, also if he goes to another place 
for over a year and afterwards returns, his wife is 
forbidden him, and anyone who gives him a wife 
is infidel. 

Amongst civilized communities it is usual to 
think of the Devil as a Spirit and Hell as his 
abode, but with the Yezidis the latter is not so, as 
Melak Ta'us is mentioned in their writings as 
having ascended into Heaven. In support of their 
disbelief in Hell they say that the consuming fires 
were extinguished by a child called Abrik Shautha, 1 
who, being diseased in eyes, nose, ears, hands and 
feet, cried for seven years into a yellow jar. When 
the jar was full he emptied it over the fires, which, 

1 Dr. Joseph says Ibrik al-Asfar, a religious man, was 
responsible, whilst a Tifiis Yezidi gives the following version : 
Satan wept in seven vessels to quench the seven hells of his 
seven thousand years' exile, and has now been reinstated in 


since then, no longer torment mankind. For this 
act Shautha was thanked by the Seven Gods. 

Paradise to the Yezidi mind is the destination 
of the souls of those who are freed from the body 
in this world. The past and future are an open 
book to these freed souls, and they are helpers of 
those earthly bound souls still struggling here 

The more prominent beliefs of the Yezidis are 
pagan in origin, as the worship of Nature goes 
back to the dawn of ages. Worship of the Sun is 
so strong that it is thought the smaller of the two 
tombs at Sheikh 'Adi was erected in its honour, 
and that the Sun is known by the title of Sheikh 
Shamsu'ddin. 1 Running water also has a signifi- 
cance in the minds of the Yezidis, co-eval with that 
of trees, and the particular spring at Sheikh 'Adi, 

1 Shams is Arabic for the Sun. Soine writers assert that 
the tomb of Shamsu'ddin was erected in memory of an earthly 
personage, Sheikh Shams 'Ali Beg al-Farisl. This theory is 
further exemplified by Dr. Joseph, who thinks that the spirit 
of the seven angels worshipped by the Yezidis originally 
existed in the bodies of men whose tombs are in the neighbour- 
hood of the Temple of Sheikh 'Adi. Thus, one of the divinities 
worshipped is supposed to be the spiritual remains of Sheikh 
Hasan of Basra, a celebrated theologian who died A.D. 728. 
Another spirit, Kamush, is given as. that of Fakhru'ddin, a 
doctor who preached in Arabic and Persian, born at Kai in 
Tabaristan A.D. 1150, and who died at Herat in A.D. 1210. 



with its sanctuary beneath the Temple, is so 
worshipped by the Yezidis, that a legend has 
come to be believed in connection with it. They 
are now firmly convinced that it has an underground 
passage communicating with the famous well of 
Zemzem at Mecca. At Ba'zani there is a sacred 
spring dedicated to Sheikh Mand, and at Ba 
Sheikha there is also a spring which issues from a 
small cave in the foothills and is very much 

Tree-worship is professed by the Yezidis to this 
day. 1 Again and again one comes across trees 
protected by a low wall of stones in their districts. 
Mulberry trees especially seem to claim their adora- 
tion, as they are thought to be endowed with sacred 
qualities and are generally regarded as having 
power to cure disease. Thus, at Ba Sheikha and 
Kabbara, there are two mulberry trees; the one at 
Ba Sheikha is called Sitt Nafisa and that at Kabbara 
is called Abdi Rash. 

They are thus raised above the ordinary level of 
common trees and are visited by the sick, who 
believe that they have powers of healing. At 

1 It is interesting to observe that in regard to the reverence 
paid by the Yezidis to trees that Yazid, a deity of the Tarh6ya 
tribe of Kurds, who are not Devil Worshippers, is supposed 
to be identified with the worship of trees. 


Ba'zani there is a mulberry tree near a spring which 
the Yezidis believe to be particularly endowed with 
special power. This tree is called Sheikh Baliko, 
an even higher degree of honour. Sick wishing to 
regain their health tie a rag to its branches and 
make their vows before it. These pieces of rag 
remain until they fall from exposure, and bread is 
cast into the spring for the fish. The sick visit the 
mulberry trees at Khasia. 

The Yezidis believe that the period since the 
flood until now is seven thousand years. They 
believe that Khuda (Kurdish and Persian for God) 
created the universe and produced seven angels 1 
upon whom its maintenance devolved. Each 
thousand years one of the angels descends to 
establish rules and laws, after which he returns to 
his abode. The principal of these was Lasifarus 
(? Lucifer), who also bears the mantle of Melak 
Ta'us, and they believe that when this angel lived 
among them he dwelt longer than any of the others, 
and confirmed the Yezidi saints before ascending. 
They also say that he spoke the Kurdish tongue 
and that the present age is that of Melak Ta'iis. 

1 These seven divinities may have originally been regarded 
as the seven Amshaps or immortal spirits mentioned in the 
A-vesta of Zoroaster. 


The other angels are supposed (Sabaean 
fashion) to be, in order of power: the Sun, 
the Moon, the Vault of Heaven, the Morning 
Star, Paradise and Hell. 1 They believe these 
angels control the universe, and for this reason 
the Yezidis kiss the spot where the Sun's morning 
rays first rest each twenty-four hours. They 
also sacrifice at Sheikh J Adi a white bull in honour 
of the Sun (Sheikh Shamsu'ddm). This custom 
is probably derived from the Zoroastrians. The 
Yezidis allege that on New Year's Day God sits 
on his throne and calls the angels to him, hearing 
their reports as to the well-being of his earthly 

A most important belief in the everyday life 
of the Yezidi is that if one of their number 
pronounces the name Shaitan, he or she will be 
struck blind. This fanaticism even goes so far as 
to forbid words with similar sounds, such as 
khait (string). Also, as there is an intimate 
connection in their minds between the Devil and 
curses, they are forbidden to pronounce the 

1 These angels are sometimes referred to by the names of 
departed personages with whom they appear to be in some 
way connected For example, Sheikh 'Adi, Yezld ibn 
Mu'awiya, Sheikh Shamsu'ddln (Artaniis), Melak Fakhru'ddln 
(Kamush) and Sheikh Nasru'ddin (Nisroch). 


Kurdish term for " curse " (la no) and its various 

The Unmentionable is believed to be the 
chief of the Angelic Host, now suffering the 
punishment for his rebellion against the jDivine 
Will (in connection with Adam's nourishment), 
but in spite of this he is still all-powerful and will 
be restored hereafter to his high estate in the 
celestial world. 

They believe in the origin of the world as put 
forward in Genesis, and in the Deluge and in 
other events in the Old Testament. The New 
Testament and the Qu'ran are not rejected in th'eir 
entirety, and there are passages from the latter 
inscribed in their Holy Places. Muhammad and 
Abraham are merely minor prophets in their eyes, 
but they expect the second coming of Christ and 
recognize the Twelfth Imam (Mahdt of the Shi'as). 
The Devil Worshippers believe that there were 
two floods, and that as the water of the second (or 
Noah's) flood rose and the ark floated, it came to 
Mount Sin jar, where it ran aground and was 
pierced by a rock. The serpent on board there- 
upon twisted itself into a cake and stopped the 
hole and the ark moved on. This may explain 
their veneration of the serpent on Feast Days, 


when pilgrims to Sheikh 'Adi kiss the black- 
leaded image carved on the Temple wall. 

They appear to believe that Christ will come 
to govern the world, but that eventually a Sheikh 
Medi (Mahdi) will rule with special jurisdiction 
over the Yezidis. They say that God has three 
thousand and three names, of which they know two 
thousand, and add that the remainder are unknown 
to anyone. As they believe that at some time or 
other all Yezidis have sinned, they lay down that 
before entering Heaven, an expiatory period must 
first be passed in another place, but that no one 
will be punished eternally. 

Instances of superstition are legion. One is 
that Yezidis believe that a Sheikh living at 
Giranjak near Mosul has the hereditary power of 
charming folk, or casting spells, even from a 
distance. A story goes that a disappointed suitor 
for a lady's hand came to see this Sheikh arid 
asked him for a consideration to render his more 
successful rival impotent after marriage, which was 
supposed to have been done through pure magic. 
When the husband apparently discovered what had 
been done to him, he went to the Sheikh and 
offered him a larger sum and implored the Sheikh 
to charm his impotence away. 


Another concerns a different Sheikh. The 
descendants of Sheikh Ruhsit, so called after a 
ruined village of the same name, between Baiban 
and Nasari in the Mosul Vilayet, believe they 
have inherited from their ancestor certain magic 
powers. They live at Baiban and are regarded as 
snake charmers. This power they are willing to 
exchange for gifts. The transference of power is 
simply effected by spitting at people who wish to 
acquire it. 

A notable survival of their pagan religion 
exists in their law regarding converts to their faith. 1 
They do not admit those who originally professed 
other religions to their community, and for this 
reason there is a certain dignity and reserve about 
their daily habits, which is impressive to those of 
us who have been brought into touch with Christian 

Their homage to the Unmentionable Being 
fortunately stops short of imitation, as they have 
no " works " on earth to perform, and they feel 
they are under no obligation to make Evil their 
Good. It is only out of respect for the great 
name of their Deity that it is never uttered, though 

1 In this respect they resemble the Parsees, who were 
originally followers of Zoroaster. 


possibly the fear of being struck blind has had 
something to do with this curious survival of 
pagan belief. 

Intolerance by other people of these so-called 
peculiar religious principles has been the cause of 
much massacre from the dawn of creation, and 
religious fanaticism has almost continually been one 
of the chief factors of tribal unrest in Kurdistan. 
The Yezidis have always been abhorred by 
Muslims as outcasts, and they are regarded less 
than the beasts, much in the same way as witches 
were regarded by Protestant Reformers, but to-day 
with the spread of Christianity more tolerance is 
being shown to these tribes, who, after all, purely 
from a religious point of view are self-supporting 
and make no claim on the outside world. 



LESS than a century ago, the Yezidis hacl their 
own independent chiefs, the last of whom, 'Alt 
Beg, was beloved by the Sheikhan tribes, as he 
was sufficiently brave and skilful in war to defend 
them for many years against the attacks of the 
Kurds and Muslims of the plains. Finally, 
however, the powerful Bey of Rowanduz in 1832 
united most of the Kurdish tribes in his immediate 
neighbourhood and resolved to crush the hated 
sect. In the conflict which followed, 'Ali Beg fell 
into his persecutor's hands and was put to death ; 
his followers fled and were pursued to Mosul. 
The boat-bridge having been removed, owing to 
the spring floods in the river, very few got across 
and most were massacred at Kuyunjik (Slaughter 
of the Sheep). 'All's son, Husain, was carried by 
his mother to the mountains and thus escaped the 
general massacre; but his power was limited, for 

shortly afterwards, particularly during the years 



1838 to 1844, Muhammad Reshid Pasha and 
Hafiz Pasha 1 continued the tale of oppression and 
massacre, and the population was reduced by three- 
fourths. In 1847, however, Lord Stratford 
intervened and got the tribes exempted from 
military service, which concession is still in force. 
Farther north, for a time the Yezidis escaped 
the Turk's clutches, and at Redwan a strong 
man named Mirza Agha was set up as a semi- 
independent chief. He is chiefly remembered by 
a church he built for the Armenian Christians of 
the Redwan district, a pleasing example of tolera- 
tion and liberality, which is unusual in this part 
of the world. Unfortunately he was eventually 
murdered by the above-mentioned Reshid Pasha, 
who had the widow placed in his harem. This 
woman, however, did not live long and soon died 
in bondage. Mirza Agha was buried on the banks 
of the stream to the west of Redwan. This 
oppression, which existed through the nineteenth 
century, was chiefly due to the fact that the 
Muslims regarded them as infidel, " having no 
Book," and their choice was between conversion 

1 Dr. Forbes, who was in the Sinjar in 1838, states that the 
Yezidis were then no more than bandits, and that Hafiz, 
Pasha of Diarbekr, was forced to intervene. 


and the .sword. Other contributory causes were 
their refusal to join the Turkish Army and to the 
Muslim belief that they used to worship secretly 
the goddess of Semiramis (Semiram) in the manner 
the Syrian Nusairis used to do. 

Again in 1892, Lieutenant-General Farik 'Umar 
Pasha, a Turk, endeavoured to induce them to 
give up Devil Worship. They would not, however, 
and many chiefs were thrown into prison. 'Umar 
Pasha's son, 'Umar Bey, also slew five hundred 
Yezidis in their villages, carried off their young 
women, and tore down their shrines. The Mir, 
'Ali Beg, in spite of this, did not change his belief, 
and was therefore banished to Katamuni, near 
Constantinople. Through British intervention he 
was later released, but this was virtually the end 
of the Yezidis' temporal power, and for many years 
they were only to be found in the mountain 
fastnesses of the higher ranges of Armenia. In 
return for this shelter, they hid, during the 1914- 
1918 war, hundreds of Armenian refugees, who 
crawled from Dairu'z-Zor to the Jebel Sin jar, and 
refused to surrender them to the Turks. 

What little authority remains is now vested in 
a personage styled the Mir (sometimes called 
Emir or Mira). He is a kind of Prince-Pope and 


is said to descend from Yezid. In a small way 
he had the " Divine Right," both temporal and 
religious, over his subjects, but nowadays this is 
usually only exercised on the religious side. The 
present Mir is Sa'id Beg, son of 'Ali Beg (grandson 
of the last independent chief) who, with two 
brothers, were sons of the Mir, Husain Beg. 
Incidentally, 'Ali Beg was, it is believed, murdered 
about a dozen years ago at any rate he died very 
suddenly. 1 Sa'id Beg comes from the family of 
Choi Beg, well known in the Sheikhan district. 
The males of this family always marry Pesmir 
women (a noble caste). His aunt was for many 
years the Khatun, or female keeper, of the shrine 
at Sheikh 'Adi. Sa'id's cousin, Isma'il, was very 
active during the 1920 rebellion of Mesopotamia, 
and called himself the Mir whilst away from his 
people, but he is not heard of now. 2 Another 
cousin, Husain, lives with the present Mir, and 
although he has no near claim to the position, in 
an unofficial way he wields .a certain amount of 
power in the Mir's household. Husain is a 

1 One writer definitely states that he was killed in 1913 by 
a Muhammadan Agha, named Safar. 

3 On one occasion he called on Colonel Cunliffe-Owen at 
Baquba near Baghdad. On his visiting card was inscribed 
"Emir Sheikh Isma'il Bey," surmounted by a peacock. 


pleasing personality; he is intelligent, has a fine 
bearing, and would, one imagines, make an ideal 

Sa'id Beg, with whom I conversed through an 
interpreter, is about thirty years of age, and wears 
the shafiya (head-dress) and agl (camel-hair fasten- 
ing) of the orthodox Arab, but without the abba 
(cloak). He is a gentle, sad, and a depressing sort 
of chief, with slim hands and a silky black beard, 
and he has a perpetually irresolute and lack-lustre 
expression. He has, moreover, a cast in one eye. 
From his earliest days he has been under the direct 
influence of his mother, Mai'yam Khanim, who 
keeps all the household affairs under her thumb. 
It is rumoured also that she, in conjunction with a 
paramour, connived at the sudden death of her 
late husband. She is of particularly aristocratic 
appearance and above the average stature of Yezidl 
women. By all accounts, she encourages the use 
of drugs and alcohol by her son, hoping for some 
reason that he will in time become entirely 
incapable of carrying out his duties and thus 
become an easy prey to a more ambitious successor. 
The Mir's word is absolutely final in all secular 
matters, and not being bound down by the laws 
of polite civilization, could, of course, make almost 


impossible demands with success. There is, how- 
ever, always the possibility that one day soor 
another chief may call himself Mir, and then Sale 
Beg will never be seen again. He informed me 
that he occasionally goes to Mosul and had once 
been as far as Baghdad, but had not travelled 
farther afield. The Yezidis seldom wander aboul 
in the towns, and townsmen keep aloof from the 
despised sect's district. His cousin, on the othei 
hand, was more versed in the modern develop- 
ments of the country to the south, and, indeed, 
had for a period served as an officer in the Arab 
Army. Sa'id Beg is married, and has a pleasant- 
looking wife, who lives in a wing of the fort a1 
Ba Idhra. 

The Mir has personal authority over the 
disposition of three of the sanajiq, or images oi 
Melak Ta'us, but does not usually avail himseli 
of the privilege. It should perhaps be explained 
that whilst each tribe has its own chief, the Mil 
is the religious head of the whole sect and is 
therefore treated with great reverence and respect. 
Although the office is supposed to b;e hereditary, 
if the eldest son is unsuitable, the Yezidis some- 
times chose another member of the family. As 
the Mir can do no wrong, the probable successoi 


generally harbours designs against his life; con- 
sequently few Mirs die in their beds. 

Immediately after the Mir, and with some of 
his temporal influence, comes the paramount Sheikh 
of the Sinjar. The present man is Hamo Shero, 
who is about ninety years old, and lives at Milik 
in the centre of the Jebel. During the war he was 
a Faqir, but was later appointed by the British 
" Ra'is of the Jebel " and " Wakil of Belad Sinjar." 
These rather pretentious titles no doubt impressed 
his followers, who appointed him their paramount 
Sheikh. He is very unorthodox, which is unlike 
a true Yezidi, but is not lacking in personality. In 
April, 1925, Hamo's unorthodoxy brought him into 
conflict with the Chief of the Mihrka tribes of the 


Sinjar, Da'ud al Da'ud, and so bitter was the feud 
that the British were forced to intervene. The 
result was that Hamo surrendered and Da'ud is 
a fugitive. Fines were, however, levied on the 
followers of both, and for the present quietude 
reigns. It is probable, however, that this is the 
end of Hamo's power, and that the orthodox Da'ud 
will eventually become the paramount Sheikh of 
the Sinjar. 

The orders of priesthood as laid down for many 
centuries are four in number; they are hereditary, 


and may descend to females, who, when enjoying 
them, are treated with the same respect and con 
sideration as the male holders of the posts. 

The highest sacerdotal order is the Granc 
Sheikh, who is the patriarch or supreme pontif 
of the whole sect. He is known as the Ikhti'ar-i 
Margahi; he is appointed by the Mir, and is believec 
by the Yezidis. to be a descendant of Iman 
Hasan al-Basri. 1 He is distinguished by aj larg* 
black turban. He receives fees paid by group! 
of families at times of birth, marriage and burial : 
also fees paid to shrines, to priests in time o 
trouble and misfortune, and at thanksgivings. H< 
has power to issue fatwas, or religious decrees 
and has certain spiritual and temporal powers 
including excommunication. He wears a specia 
belt and gloves. 

The Grand Sheikh usually has assistants 
known as the Sheikhs, 2 each of whom is chosen bj 
the head of a family to act as advocate in the nex 
world. They are usually known as " heavenb 
brothers," and have to be near- their employers a 
the time of death. These officials allow their hand: 
to be kissed daily by the head of the family ii 
question. In dress, they are allowed to wear white 
say Sheikh 'Adi was his forefather. 

3 Sheikh is Arabic for old man or elder. 


except the skull-cap, which must be black. They 
also wear round the body a band of red and yellow 
or orange plaid. Those living near Sheikh 'Adi 
watch over the tomb, receive pilgrims, take charge 
(in rotation) of offerings, and sell clay balls (special 
balls made of earth from the tomb of Sheikh 'Adi 
made into paste with Sheikh 'Adi water and 
regarded as sacred). It is difficult to place a Sheikh 
in order of precedence as far as the priesthood is 
concerned, as he is a kind of offshoot, and the office 
is not hereditary. 

The next are the Pirs, 1 which in Kurdish 
literally means "old men." The Pir is a 
hereditary priest, and receives half as much in 
dues as the Sheikh, but has few temporal duties. 
He is supposed to possess the power of curing 
disease and insanity. He leads a life of sanctity 
and honesty, and is looked up to with great 
reverence. His duties being practically nominal, 
the office is a sinecure, and in spite of the stringent 
regulations as to priests' wearing apparel, none 
apply to his office. He usually wears a white 
turban, with a black plume. 

The most numerous grade of priests are the 
Qauw&ls. 2 They are able to play and teach the 

1 Pir is Persian for abbot. 

8 Qauw&l is Kurdish for chanter or orator. 


playing of drums, flutes and tambourines, and they 
are also singers. They go on missions with Melak 
Ta'us, and being young and therefore active, they 
dance at festivals. They also instruct the young 
in dancing and religious pleasure. They are 
allowed to wear coloured fabrics, but white is more 
usual. Both their turbans and skull-caps are black. 
Usually they are well dressed, as they are given 
clothes by pilgrims to wear for two months. These 
are then returned sanctified. 

The last grade are the Faqirs 1 or Mullas, some- 
times colloquially called Qarabash (meaning black- 
heads), who are akin to the Levites of the Jews. 
They wear a khurqa (black cloth, or canvas coat) 
reaching to the knee and fitting tightly, which, 
according to the Yezidis, hung on a tree will stop 
a disturbance or brawl. The cloth is dyed with a 
special fast colour made from Chinar leaves, by 
boiling the cloth in a solution of this dye for twelve 
hours. The duties of the Faqirs consist in guarding 
the books and mysteries of their religion and of 
filling and trimming the lamps placed in niches in 
the courtyard walls. They usually serve in squads 

*Faqir is Arabic for a poor man or a beggar. They are 
administered by a Kak (Persian for master or teacher), who 
lives in a holy place in the province of Aleppo. 


of ten weekly. They wear a black turban, over 
which is tied a red handkerchief, and if they wear 
a chain round; their necks it signifies they have 
renounced all earthly vanities. They also clean 
the various buildings of the shrines and generally 
do menial work. At one time they used to fast for 
eighty days each year (forty days in summer and 
forty in winter), when they only eat once each 
twenty-four hours. Whilst fasting they sleep on 
grass mattresses. 

In addition to these Orders, there is also an 
interesting body known as Kuchaks, nomadic 
usually, who are regarded as seers, visionaries, 
mediums and miracle workers. They are supposed 
to receive these powers from a hereditary source, 
but they may be possessed, nevertheless, by an 
outsider. They fall into trances and see visions. 
Their power in olden times was practically un- 
limited, and if they were popular they could become 
Grand Sheikhs. One, named Beru, was approached 
by the leaders of some of the tribes during a par- 
ticularly dry season, who asked him to send rain 
to the district. The story goes that this Kuchak 
said that he went up to Heaven that evening and 
there saw Sheikh 'Adi and invoked his help. 
Together they referred the matter to a heavenly 


priest named Isaac (Ishaq), who was sitting beside 
God. .The priest, who had evidently had many 
appeals of this nature from his earthbound brethren, 
informed the Kuchak through Sheikh 'Adi that he 
would cause rain to fall within seven days. The 
chiefs duly waited for this period, but still no rain 
fell. The Kuchak was brought before them, and 
he thereupon explained that so many calls had been 
made on Heaven for the desired rainfall that each 
apparently had to wait its turn. This explanation 
seemed to satisfy the chiefs, but the Kuchak was 
implored to do all he could to see that the promise 
of rainfall was fulfilled. By sheer luck rain fell 
within a short time, and the Kuchak's alleged 
powers were vindicated and he was hailed with 
acclamation by the tribes of the district. 

Another, a shepherd, recently impressed the 
Mir's mother with his aspirations. She told her 
son to get a Chaldean priest from Tel Uskof to 
test the shepherd's powers at Ba Idhra in the 
presence of the people, but no miracles were per- 
formed, and his potential power over the people 
vanished. He was assassinated shortly afterwards; 
but so credulous are the people at the mention of 
the word Kuchak that these alleged miracle-workers 
nearly always have a following. Kuchaks wear 


black, and marry within their caste like Sheikhs 
and Faqirs, but are not circumcised. 1 

The saints venerated by the priests are in order 
of precedence : Sheikh 'Adi, Yezid, Muhammad 
Rashan, and Sheikh Mand. A sacred spring is 
dedicated to the last-named at Ba'zani, and his 
descendants are said to be able to pick up poisonous 
snakes with impunity. It is nevertheless a fact that 
snakes are unknown in this district. 

The Archangels worshipped by the Yezidis are 
(i) Jabra'il (Gabriel), who bears the word of God 
to prophets and believers; (2) Mikha'il (Michael), 
who brings rains, snow, wind and hail; (3) Azra'il, 
the archangel of death; (4) Dedra'il; (5) Rapha'il; 
(6) Shamka'il; (7) Azazil, also said to be Azrafil; 
(8) Azrafil, who announces minor messages with a, 
trumpet; (9 and 10) Nekir and Nukir (properly 
Nakir, for Munkir, and Nakir), who examine men's 
souls at their death. 

According to Heard, some Yezidis believe 
Mikha'il, Azra'il, Dedra'il, Shamka'il and Isrifil to 

1 The priests having the immediate charge of the shrine 
are called Shawish, and are unmarried. Menial duties at 
Sheikh 'Adi are also carried out by women called Kab&na and 
Fuqraiya, the latter chiefly at festivals. These servants are 
also unmarried. The Faqirs are known locally as Farrash 
(Arabic for sweeper). 


be incarnated in the Sheikhs Abubakr, Salju'ddin, 
Hasan al-Basri, Nasru'ddin and Shamsu'ddin res- 
pectively, some of whom have shrines to their 
memory at Sheikh 'Adi. 

According to Yezidi teaching, Melak Ta'iis was, 
however, originally regarded as the incarnation of 
Yazid, whom the priests now speak of as a saint 
and inferior to Sheikh 'Adi. 

It is worth noting that, according to tradition, 
when the Yezidis were naturally powerful they had 
a royal house. Sabur I (A.D. 224-272) and Sabur II 
(A,D. 309-379) are mentioned by them, and it is 
said that the first five kings reigned together over 
one hundred and fifty years (A.D. 224-379), an ^ 
were the ancestors of the present family of Mirs, 
known locally as Mairi Khan. There is, however, 
no trace of such a royal house at any later period 
of their history. 



So little is known about Sheikh 'Adi that much 
that has found its way into books about him must 
be laid at the heels of conjecture. Even the 
present-day Yezidis cannot, or will not, definitely 
say much about his birth, life and death, and it has 
been left to the present writer to narrow down 
possibilities to certain definite schools of thought, 
which bear characteristics that would indicate their 

The Saint's full name is given variously by 
Eastern scholars who have endeavoured to trace 
ancestry. The consensus of opinion is that he was 
called Sarafu'ddin Abu'l-Fadail 'Adi ibn Musafir 
ibn Isma'il ibn Musa ibn Marwan ibn. al-Hasan ibn 
Marwzin. 1 Thus for at least six generations there 
is agreement as to his forefathers, and it is 
unnecessary to go farther back than this. 

1 One Oriental continues to trace his ancestry five further 
generations, namely ibn Muhammad ibn Marwan ibn al-Hakan 
ibn al-'Ass ibn 'Umayya, but the name of the ninth (al-Hakan) 
alone is corroborated by any other authority. 



As to how 'Adi became identified with the 
Yezidis, the tribes themselves are inclined to 
believe that he was a Syrian Magian, who in the 
tenth century took refuge with the Yezidis, who 
were already established in the Kurdish highlands. 
He was a man of some learning and wrote holy 
books for them, and on his death a shrine in the 
Temple was set apart for his tomb and the Temple 
re-named Sheikh 'Adi. As the Qauwals at Sheikh 
'Adi maintain that this shrine was built A.D;. 960, 
some credence must be given to this story. On 
the other hand, it may have been handed down 
from generation to generation, and owing to their 
inborn credulity the Yezidis probably refuse to 
believe that this is not the case. 

Most of the available information on this subject, 
however, inclines one to credit the following story. 
The shrine at Sheikh 'Adi, as originally conceived, 
was not the religious centre of the Yezidis, but the 
site of the Christian Church of Mar Yuhannan 
and Mar Yshoh Sabran. In the twelfth century 
Christian monks employed a Tarhoya Kurd of the 
Beni-'Umaya tribe named 'Adi, son of Musafir al- 
Hakkari, as an agent to collect their tithes. After 
a time, realizing the importance of his position, he 
conspired with his own and the Zednaya tribe, 


overpowered the monks and seized the monastery. 
The story goes that he eventually married a 
Mogul woman and had three sons, Sharafu'ddin, 
Muhammad Fakhru'ddin and Shamsu'ddin, who 
thereafter lived at the monastery. He then 
founded a religion based on doctrines from various 
faiths, resembling a form of paganism, with a deity 
named Yazid as the central figure, and regarded 
himself as a prophet. In order that the origin of 
his family should not bear subsequent investigation, 
he forbade the arts of reading and writing. His 
period of influence, however, did not last long, and 
he was taken prisoner by the Amir Gengis Khan, 
was deported to Persia and subsequently executed 
at Maragha. His sons shortly afterwards fled from 
the district, the eldest, Sharafu'ddin, being killed ; 
Fakhru'ddin established himself in the Sinjar district, 
and the youngest, Shamsu'ddin, and his wife settled 
in Damascus. For a time the monastery was closed, 
but a son of Shamsu'ddin having reached maturity, 
successfully petitioned the Tartar Sultan that he 
might regain possession, and erected the present 
shrine to his now-illustrious grandfather. 

The chief bone of contention in the above story, 
and that believed by the Yezidis themselves, is that 
Sheikh 'Adi was not a Kurd, but a Syrian, and 


curiously enough, an Arab scholar named Kasi 
Ahmad ibn Khallikan of Mosul, says that a man of 
this name, a Sufi saint and mystic 1 was born at 
Bait Far near Baalbek in Syria in the early part of 
the twelfth century. He is supposed to have gone 
into retreat to a ruined Christian monastery in the 
Sinjar, where he died and was interred in A.D. 
1162-3.* He says that Musafiru'd-din, King of 
Arbil, near Mosul, said that when a boy he saw 
Sheikh 'Adi at Mosul. According to him he was a 
man of medium size and tawny complexion, and 
died at the age of ninety. If this is the same man, 
then the Yezidis are two hundred years out in their 
calculations, but it is noteworthy that Syria is 
mentioned in their assumed scripture, the " Black 
Book." This Sufi was a pupil of Sheikh Abdu'l- 
Kadir of Gilan in Persia, was born A.D. 1078-9, 
founded the Kadiri dervishes, died A.D. 1 164-5, an d 
was buried at Sheikh 'Adi. This Sheikh 'Adi once 
went on a pilgrimage with him to Mecca for four 

1 From s&f, Arabic for wool, meaning a wool-weaver, 
typifying simplicity of life. Sufism, which is eclectic, is the 
antithesis of Manchseism, which is dogmatic. It came into 
prominence during the eighth century A.D., and afterwards 
gained adherents in Persia. 

3 Soane mentions Sheikh 'Adi's burial-place as the valley 
of Kenwi Lash (meaning body) in the Hakkari range, near 


years. He afterwards led a wandering life and 
professed strange doctrines. 

Thus the Yezidis may have grafted his cult on 
to their own and on his death erected a shrine to his 
memory in the well-watered valley now known as 
Sheikh 'Adi. It is, moreover, recorded that his 
name like the Tarhoya Kurd was also ibn Musafir 
al-Hakkari, but the discrepancy of two centuries in 
the date of the shrine is difficult to account for. It 
has been suggested that a possible explanation is 
that the present-day Yezidis are correct in stating 
that the monastery (not the shrine itself) was built in 
the tenth century, but that it was in use for the 
intervening two hundred years as a Christian 
monastery, when it was seized by the Sinjar 
Yezidis, who adapted the buildings as a shrine 
for Sheikh 'Adi. A certain Mosuli once said that 
it was a local tradition that Sheikh 'Adi died near 
Ba Idhra and that he thought this more likely than 
that Sheikh 'Adi died in a Christian monastery in 
the Sinjar. 

Miss Gertrude Bell says that she is not at all 
clear about the Saint's origin, and mentions the 
districts of Aleppo and the Hauran (also mentioned 
by Muhammad Amin al-'Umari) as his birthplace 
and the date of his death as A.D. 1162. His Sufi 


teaching was in accordance with that received by 
Mansur al-Hallaj, who suffered martyrdom for 
asserting the permeation of all created things by 
the Deity, with the phrase " I am God." Definite 
evidence that the building, which is now the 
Yezidis' religious headquarters, was once a Christian 
Church is difficult to: produce, but this is not surpris- 
ing as the late Lord Percy, who visited the place in 
1897, found the e'difice in ruins. 

Another tradition the Yezidis have is that Sheikh 
'Adi, who lived near Mosul, fled before the Tartar 
invasion of King Arghun, intending to take refuge 
at Aleppo, but on the road he was captured by the 
men of the Sinjar, who afterwards revered him as 
a holy man, naming him Nabi (Prophet), and later 
Sheikh 'Adi. On his return to his country (now 
Sheikhan) he died and was buried on Mount Lalish 
(the present shrine at Sheikh 'Adi). 

So much for evidence based on a certain amount 
of research in connection with the period of the 
Saint, but legendary stories in connection with his 
life are by no means lacking. One which the 
Yezidis firmly believe is that he was responsible for 
bringing the springs now rising in the valley in 
which his tomb stands from the well of Zemzem 
at Mecca. 


The mythical power of Sheikh 'Adi attributed to 
him by the Yezidis is symbolic of their general 
tendency to create a mystical atmosphere around 
anything connected with their religion. The 
following is typical of their beliefs. They believe 
that the Saint will, on the Last Day, carry un- 
questioned all the then living followers of Melak 
Ta'us (whether worthy or unworthy) to Heaven on 
a tray, but they cannot explain exactly how the feat 
is to be accomplished. Some, however, believe 
that Sheikh 'Adi was a mere mortal, who had in 
life bitter experience of the devilment of Melak 
Ta'us,, for when he was at Mecca on a pilgrimage, 
Melak Ta'us impersonated him and finally ascended 
visibly to Heaven. When Sheikh 'Adi returned, 
he was supposed to have been slain as an impostor, 
but Melak Ta'us reappearing, confessed his trick 
and gave orders that Sheikh 'Adi was henceforth 
to be honoured as a saint. 

Another legend concerning Sheikh 'Adi is that 
he and his followers and horses were invited; by 
God to Heaven. On arrival, he discovered there 
was no straw for the party to rest on, so he ordered 
some to be sent from his home on earth. On the 
way some was spilt, which was scattered in the 
firmament and is now " The Milky Way." 


- Investigations on these lines could be carried out 
indefinitely, but it is difficult to sift the wheat from 
the chaff. Rejecting references to his name in the 
Holy Books of the Yezidis, wherein he is portrayed 
as a Prophet of the highest, 1 it is impossible to 
point to sufficient evidence that he was the author of 
the cult of Melak Ta'us. It is more likely that in 
his youth he was a devout searcher for an unorthodox 
religion, and in his wanderings across Syria came in 
touch with the Yezidis, threw in his lot with them, 
and they, on his death, immortalized his memory 
about A.D. 1163 by placing his tomb in the already 
existing temple at Sheikh 'Adi. 

A Muhammadan writer, Yasin al-Hatib al- 
'Umari, who lived in Mosul, says that a Chaldean 
manuscript in the Church of Karmalis near Mosul 
(supposed to have been written by a thirteenth- 
century Bishop of Arbil in honour of the Chaldean 
Saints) bears out the fact that the Nestorians do 
not share the same opinion of Sheikh 'Adi as the 
Yezidis themselves. He is supposed to have been 
a Muhammadan, a descendant of Hagar, who 

1 In the Poem of Sheikh 'Adi, which is not of sufficient 
historical value to lay down precepts, we are informed in 
verse 57 that the Saint is 'Adi as-Shami (the Syrian). The 
poem says that he is the son of Musafir, who according to 
Yezidi tradition, is a venerated personage. Sheikh 'Adi's 
mother is supposed to have come from Basra. 


deceived them, and finally took possession of 
their monastery in which he consecrated illicit 

The following variant of the story is attributed 
to Mr. Thomas Mugerditchian, an Armenian drago- 
man of Diarbekr, who, from childhood, made a 
special study of the rites of the Yezidis. He states 
that it is recorded in the Chronicles of the Nestor- 
ians that a certain 'Adi, a monk in the monastery of 
al-Qaus, in consequence of a quarrel with a superior, 
seized the monastery now known as 'Adi (said to 
have been originally consecrated to Mar Addai 1 ) at 
/Lalish, which he converted to his use, compiled the 
sacred books and founded their religion. This 
authority also says the monk in question possibly 
impersonated the Syrian Saint of that name. 

As far as I can ascertain there are no relics 
appertaining to the Saint, but, until it was stolen by 
the Turks in 1892, there was a copper sieve, known 
as a takhi or seat, kept at Ba'zani on. which it is 
reputed Sheikh 'Adi used to sit whilst he was giving 
judgment to his people. 

1 Saint Thaddaeus. 



ON the few existing large scale maps, the name 
Sheikh 'Adi may be seen, but to call this a village 
would scarcely be correct, as the only building is 
the Temple. There are, it is true, a few cave- 
like dwellings in the immediate neighbourhood, in 
partial ruin, but they are uninhabited except at 

Reference to Sheikh 'Adi indicates the Temple 
and the Inner and Outer Courts, the entire area of 
which is not much more than an acre. The 
small valley in which the Temple is situated is 
approximately Latitude N. 37 46' and Longitude 
E. 43 1 8' at about 3,100 feet above sea-level. 

To arrive there from the south, starting from 
Mosul the pontoon bridge spanning the Tigris is 
crossed, and after a mile one turns off nearly due 
north at the south-east corner of Kuyinjik, on'e of 
the two mounds comprising Nineveh. 1 The road 

1 The other is Nebi Unis, and associated with Jonah. 



surface is one of the best in the district, and no 
difficulty is experienced in passing the Christian 
villages of Tel Kaif, Batinai and Tel Uskof. A 
few miles farther on the surface becomes more 
stony, and care is necessary in negotiating an 
outcrop of hills consisting of soft marble and 
gypsum running nearly due east and west, called 
the Jebel Kand. A short distance on the far side 
of this low range is encountered the small village 
of Sharafiya and between here and the Kurdish 
village of al-Qaus, the country is typically undula- 
ting with long easy slopes. Al-Qaus boasts of a 
fairly large but primitive collection of stone huts, 
situated at the foot of the first large range of hills 
which is met with when approaching Kurdistan 
from this direction. At the edge of the village, 
which is a veritable sun-trap, a sharp turn is taken 
to the right and three miles farther on lies a great 
recess in the mountains. At the end of this pocket 
is one of the most interesting Christian relics in 
these regions, namely, the Chaldean monastery of 
Rabban Hormuzd, dating from the eighth century, 
which has always been inhabited since its founda- 
tion, but it is now only the succursale of the big 
modern monastery on the plains a mile or so to 

the south. 



From now onwards a Ford car should have no 
trouble in negotiating the numerous wddis (dried 
watercourses) encountered, but for heavier vehicles 
careful handling is necessary. Incidentally I made 
the first trip in a Rolls Royce car between al-Qaus 
and Ba Idhra. A mile or two from Ba Idhra 
two tiny villages, Baiban and Jerehiya, to the 
right and left respectively, are passed before the 
track descends and becomes more difficult. In 
this district may be found a few Assyrians who 
emigrated to South America many years ago to 
escape persecution, and afterwards found their 
way back to this out-of-the-way spot. Their 
speech betrays traces of their residence in a 
Spanish-speaking country. 

Dominating the village of Ba Idhra, and indeed 
the country for many miles, is the fortress of Kasr 
of the religious chief of the Yezidis. It is situated 
on a plateau and immediately catches the eye 
as one tops the last ridge. The village itself, a 
distance of sixty-two miles by road from Mosul, 
is not at once visible, as it nestles in a long, 
winding valley and is watered by a small stream 
which runs horseshoe fashion along its boundaries. 
Buildings of a more superior type than are^seen 
en route are evidence of the prosperity of the 


inhabitants and are surrounded by olives, almonds 
and mulberries. Near the village is a particularly 
noticeable sacred tree, walled in with stones, and 
is typical of many in the neighbourhood. The 
castle or fort, which has two floors, is built of 
uftdressed stone, and its main entrance, surmounted 
by gazelle antlers, 1 leads into a rectangular court- 
yard where building operations were, in 1925, 
apparently being carried out. Turning to the 
right and passing under a narrow archway there is 
another small courtyard with stalls and loose 
boxes. The women's quarters and the room where 
the Mir's personal sanjdq is kept, are on the left, 
and at the far end of this courtyard is a flight 
of rough steps leading to a balcony. On either 
.side of this veranda or porch are the guest rooms. 
Beneath these are situated quarters for servants 
and minor officials. The main guest room is a 
fairly lofty apartment and quite devoid of ornament. 
There are a few rough inscriptions on the white- 
washed walls, which I was unable to decipher, as 
they were of a Kurdish dialect and written in 
Arabic characters. Two or three rough seats, 
covered with clean cotton covers, placed against 

1 It is an interesting fact that horns of bulls are sometimes 
placed on houses in Malta to ward off the Evil Eye. 


the walls together with a small table, unpainted 
or polished, comprises the furniture. 

After a few minutes, Sa'id Beg, the Mir of the 
Yezidis, appeared, and the usual presentations 
having been made, coffee was served. Husain 
Beg, a cousin of the Mir, superintended this, and 
indeed appeared to be the major-domo of the 
establishment. We were later presented to the 
Mir's mother, a well-set-up woman of about fifty, 
of striking appearance, but the Mir's wife was not 
visible. The Mir's agent, a Chaldean Christian, 
one Abdu'1-Ahad Effendi, in conjunction with our 
Arab interpreter, then made known to Sa'id Beg 
our intentions for the following day. Plans were 
therefore made for us to stay the night at the 
fortress. We were most hospitably entertained, 
were presented to several of the local Sheikhs, and 
made a tour of the village. A most elaborate 
dinner was prepared by the Mir's mother for our 
consumption; it was sufficient for a company of 
infantry, and the remains were given to the house- 
hold servants. The night was spent in the court- 
yard on divans provided by the Mir, and a guard 
watched over us whilst we slept. 

Early the following morning, before the sun had 
appeared, we rose and proceeded by Ford car to 


the walls together with a small table, unpainted 
or polished, comprises the furniture. 

After a few minutes, Sa'id Beg, the Mir of the 
Yezidis, appeared, and the usual presentations 
having been made, coffee was served. Husain 
Beg, a cousin of the Mir, superintended this, and 
indeed appeared to be the major-domo of the 
establishment. We were later presented to the 
Mir's mother, a well-set-up woman of about fifty, 
of striking appearance, but the Mir's wife was not 
visible. The Mir's agent, a Chaldean Christian, 
one Abdu'1-Ahad Effendi, in conjunction with our 
Arab interpreter, then made known to Sa'id Beg 
our intentions for the following day. Plans were 
therefore made for us to stay the night at the 
fortress. We were most hospitably entertained, 
were presented to several of the local Sheikhs, and 
made a tour of the village. A most elaborate 
dinner was prepared by the Mir's mother for our 
consumption ; it was sufficient for a company of 
infantry, and the remains were given to the house- 
hold servants. The night was spent in the court- 
yard on divans provided by the Mir, and a guard 
watched over us whilst we slept. 

Early the following morning, before the sun had 
appeared, we rose and proceeded by Ford car to 


Ain Sifni 1 (according to Yezidi tradition the 
building-place of the ark) a distance of twelve 
miles. It is worthy of note regarding the qualities 
of this type of motor-car, that prior to the spring 
of 1925 no motor vehicle had ever attempted the 
journey to Ain Sifni, and it is probable that 
only a Ford could have accomplished it without 
mechanical trouble. The stony track is of a 
tortuous and unpromising nature, ravines and 
deep ruts being numerous. Indeed at times it 
seemed miraculous how the car remained on its 
four wheels, so rough was the going. Bruised and 
shaken after an hour we espied Ain Sifni, having 
passed two collections of stone hovels, dignified by 
the names of Esiyau and Beristek. Ain Sifni is 
a typical Turkoman village, and is now the 
headquarters of an Arab police detachment. The 
last stage of the journey was now reached, and 
leaving the Ford we immediately mounted hardy 
Arab ponies or Kurdish mules with their picturesque 

Through the kindness of the local Chief of 
Police a mounted escort consisting of a Qaim- 

1 A more direct route from Ba Idhra may be followed, 
avoiding Ain Sifni, but little saving in time is gained, as the 
track is in places difficult and even dangerous. 


maqam (local government representative or deputy) 
and four other ranks was provided. Two police- 
men preceded the party and two remained in the 
rear. This sparsely populated district has be'en 
for hundreds of years a happy hunting ground for 
bandits, and the escort was a necessary precaution. 
As we topped each ridge the two leading policemen 
galloped ahead to make sure the route was clear. 
After an hour's going, crossing several wddis, the 
track became more tortuous, and suddenly the 
pass through which our way lay became visible. 
Without a guide progress would have been 
impossible. Huge boulders made the track indefin- 
able, but by careful going and keeping well in 
touch, at last the entrance of the pass was made. 
The scenery as we ascended became awe-inspiring, 
and a sense of the terrible lawlessness of the past, 
which has made the beautifully wooded Kurdish 
hills scenes of bloody massacre, was now felt. 
Picking their way carefully, now and again slipping 
and stumbling, our steeds zigzagged their way 
along the narrow path on the side of the hills 
without guiding rein. Up and up we rode, and 
although the sun was now fairly high in the 
heavens, so steep was the face of the hillside, we 
were still in shadow. The cool, stimulating air 


was welcome after the hot aridness of the plains, 
and mountain oak, pomegranates both of the wild 
and cultivated variety, sloes, figs, olives, tobacco, 
vines, water-melons, giant thistles, rhododendrons, 
hawthorn, poplars, jasmines, tamarisk, walnuts, 
pistachios, galls, crab-apples and many other 
varieties of trees and plants were visible growing 
along our path. 

Crest after crest appeared, and still the sacred 
valley hid from sight. The apologies for villages 
called Geli Hudaida and Avriva, inhabited by 
nomadic Yezidis, were now passed, and at a small 
open space a halt was made and also inquiries of 
the police as to the distance still to be traversed. 
As we were informed that another twenty minutes 
would see the party at its destination, we soon 
remounted and after altogether two and a half 
hours' steady going we came across a well-worn 
track on the left of a mountain stream overhung 
with shady oak trees. We now had ascended 
nearly 1,500 feet since leaving Ain Sifni and our 
efforts were well rewarded, for at the very end of 
this winding path in this secluded valley we came 
upon two white-washed fluted spires of the Temple 
of Sheikh J Adi, the most sacred sanctuary of the 
Yezidis, emerging from plane, mulberry, fig and 


other shade-giving trees. Abruptly we pulled up 
at a crumbling stone doorway. We were now 
within the precincts of the only temple extant, 
which is specifically and avowedly dedicated to 
the Author of Evil himself. Nothing more 
incongruous could possibly be imagined. It 
appealed to us more as an earthly paradise than 
as the headquarters of the worship of the 
Malignant One. 

Having been greeted by the custodian, a 
cousin of Sa'id Beg, and the members of the 
various orders of priesthood, it was noticed that our 
immediate surroundings disclosed .a narrow court- 
yard, at the south-west corner of which was a 
fairly large stone bath containing the clearest 
spring water imaginable. Dismounting, our syces 
(grooms) retired with the ponies and mules to the 
stables (partially underground), and left us with the 
Qauwals. The water in the aforesaid tank, which 
is supposed to travel miraculously from Mecca and 
never to run dry, soon proved an irresistible 
attraction and we assuaged our thirst in its cool 
depths, despite the presence therein of numerous 
water cameleons and frags of vivid colours. 
Our interpreter having presented us to a boy of 
perhaps fourteen (who, it was later understood, was 


other shade-giving trees. Abruptly we pulled up 
at a crumbling stone doorway. We were now 
within the precincts of the only temple extant, 
which is specifically and avowedly dedicated to 
the Author of Evil himself. Nothing more 
incongruous could possibly be imagined. It 
appealed to us more as an earthly paradise than 
as the headquarters of the worship of the 
Malignant One. 

Having been greeted by the custodian, a 
cousin of Sa'id Beg, and the members of the 
various orders of priesthood, it was noticed that our 
immediate surroundings disclosed a narrow court- 
yard, at the south-west corner of which was a 
fairly large stone bath containing the clearest 
spring water imaginable. Dismounting, our syces 
(grooms) retired with the ponies and mules to the 
stables (partially underground), and left us with the 
Qauwals. The water in the aforesaid tank, which 
is supposed to travel miraculously from Mecca and 
never to run dry, soon proved an irresistible 
attraction and we assuaged our thirst in its cool 
depths, despite the presence therein of numerous 
water cameleons and frogs of vivid colours. 
Our interpreter having presented us to a boy of 
perhaps fourteen (who, it was later understood, was 


the acting Sheikh) smoking a huge pipe, led the 
way along an avenue of crumbling masonry and 
through an open gateway to a kind of platform, 
above which grew masses of mulberry foliage. 
Steps then led down to the Inner Court in front 
of the west wall of the Temple itself. The Temple 
lies on its longer axis due east and west. This 
was possibly intentional, but is more likely to 
be dictated by the nature of the site, especially 
as the shrine itself is on the northern side. One 
authority considers that the Temple was conceived 
as a model of the Persian Audience Hall. 

In the Inner Court we found Faqirs and others 
smoking their typical long Kurdish pipes, who with 
less curiosity than we imagined quietly watched our 
entrance. Soon we were bidden to be seated on 
the mats spread out on the stone floor, and greetings 
were exchanged all round. Presently the keeper 
of the shrine called for refreshments, the usual 
custom before entering the Temple proper, and 
shortly afterwards we were regaled with numerous 
cups of sweet tea and bowls of shenini or curds 
and whey. After smoking a cigarette or two, a 
Qauwal informed us that we could, if we wished, 
now enter the shrine. It is probable that during 
the refreshment interval advantage had been taken 


of putting out of sight any object in the Temple 
it was considered we should not see. 

The door of the Temple, which is on the left 
of the west wall, is interesting on account of the 
symbolic engravings cut on the portico, including 
crude peacocks, crescents, stars, hatchets and 
combs. (A hatchet forms part of the Mir's 
insignia when fully arrayed for performing religious 
rites, and a comb is supposed to guard against 
witches by entangling their hair.) To the right of 
the doorway, immediately arresting our attention, 
is cut a large black figure of a serpent, showing up 
clearly on the white masonry. Prior to 1 892 , when 
the Temple was sacked, a seven-branched sceptre 
was carved on the wall to the right of the serpent. 
On either side of the pillars were small bunches 
of withered red flowers stuck on the stonework with 
bitumen and Sheikh 'Adi earth made into a paste 
by pilgrims, who look on this offering as a symbol 
of blood and sacrifice. Having removed our 
shoes, we were bidden to watch carefully the 
Faqir's movements and to follow his footsteps. In 
single file we carefully stepped over the sacred 
stone at the entrance ,and entered the Temple. 
The first impression of the interior is its shabbiness, 
bareness and dampness. Our eyes, unaccustomed 


to the obscurity, were vaguely conscious of a quite 
bare greasy floor with water trickling from under 
the wall on the left and a tiny rivulet running from 
a basin immediately to the right of the door to 
a large tank situated a few yards away near the 
junction of the south and west walls. In slow, 
solemn state the procession turned to the right, 
down a single step to the lower of two naves, into 
which the central hall is divided. Water also 
appeared to be issuing from the stone flags with 
which this, the southern nave, is paved. Continu- 
ing along its length we became conscious of open 
lamps hanging from the roof, with lighted floating 
wicks, burning pure olive oil. We later heard that 
the wicks and oil were manufactured in the sacred 
valley. Unoccupied niches were made in the south 
wall, and about half-way along there appeared to 
be a larger opening in the wall where a dim lamp 
was lit, in which, it was understood, was usually 
kept on non-festival days the headquarter peacock, 
but neither then nor later was this story confirmed. 1 
Certainly nothing was to be seen. 

Having traversed the length of the nave, 

1 Yezid, whom they sometimes call God, I am given to 
understand, has a place of honour in the Temple, in conjunction 
with Melak Ta'us. A lamp burns in this spot and texts are 
written on the wall invoking the mercy of the Supreme Being 


which is supported by four or five arches, we 
turned to the left, and carefully stepping over 
another threshold stone of a low doorway, we found 
ourselves in a small chamber, quite bare, serving 
as a kind of ante-room. To the left of this is 
another open doorway which communicates with a 
second chamber or chapel in which stands the 
tomb of Sheikh 'Adi himself. 1 This chamber or 
shak is surmounted with the larger of the two 
fluted spires. (The other spire which rises a few 
yards from the Temple enclosure is dedicated to 
Sheikh Shamsu'ddin.) But for the presence of an 
attendant carrying an oriental lamp lighted with 
eerily flickering wicks, it was so gloomy as to be 
difficult to distinguish anything clearly. The only 
rays of light which normally enter this chamber 
come through small holes in the roof. The tomb, 
about the size of an old four-poster bed, was 
covered with faded red and green cloth (the 

upon them. In the dim light it was impossible to see whether 
this was the place of honour referred to, but it is probable this 
niche is not the one in question, as Badger mentions seeing a 
lighted niche outside the Temple with inscriptions referring 
to Yezid and Sheikh 'Adi. 

1 Some Yezidis have a vague belief that he is not the 
historical person mentioned as coming from Syria, but regard 
his name as one of the names of the Deity. In this case the 
tomb is a myth and the word " Sheikh " added to conciliate 
the Muharnmadans. 

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Sheikh's colours), which was reverently kissed by 
the Faqir. It is understood that beneath is some 
wonderful wood carving bearing Surah II of the 
Qur'an, but we were not allowed to approach the 
tomb closer to inspect it. In a whispering voice 
the priest pointed out one or two details, but as it 
was evident our presence was a great privilege, we 
did not too closely pursue this delicate subject, 
the Saint being in the eyes of the Yezidis to some 
extent connected with Melak Ta'us, though not 
requiring so much worship. At festivals a small 
plaster case is placed close to the tomb containing 
small balls of Sheikh 'Adi clay. Beyond was a 
closed door leading to the oil store where the olive 
oil is kept in large earthenware jars resting against 
the walls. 

On retracing our steps into the smaller chamber, 
we noticed the low door which communicates with 
the subterranean cave, which is venerated by the 
Yezidis even more than the tomb of Sheikh 'Adi. 
It is situated in the east wall and leads down about 
half a dozen steps into a small dark chamber. 
Here, issuing from the north wall, is the spring 
which the Devil Worshippers believe to originate 
from the well Zemzem. The stream, which is in 
reality a mere trickle of water, runs through a small 


Sheikh's colours), which was reverently kissed by 
the Faqir. It is understood that beneath is some 
wonderful wood carving bearing Surah II of the 
Qur'an, but we were not allowed to approach the 
tomb closer to inspect it. In a whispering voice 
the priest pointed out one or two details, but as it 
was evident our presence was a great privilege, we 
did not too closely pursue this delicate subject, 
the Saint being in the eyes of the Yezidis to some 
extent connected with Melak Ta'us, though not 
requiring so much worship. At festivals a small 
plaster case is placed close to the tomb containing 
small balls of Sheikh 'Adi clay. Beyond was a 
closed door leading to the oil store where the olive 
oil is kept in large earthenware jars resting against 
the walls. 

On retracing our steps into the smaller chamber, 
we noticed the low door which communicates with 
the subterranean cave, which is venerated by the 
Yezidis even more than the tomb of Sheikh 'Adi. 
It is situated in the east wall and leads down about 
half a dozen steps into a small dark chamber. 
Here, issuing from the north wall, is the spring 
which the Devil Worshippers believe to originate 
from the well Zemzem. The stream, which is in 
reality a mere trickle of water, runs through a small 


hole in the wall at the east end and turns off to 
the left on the far side. A low passage now leads 
south, and bearing off to the left, admits one to a 
second chamber, slightly larger than the first, which 
is the veriest Holy of Holy Yezidi ground. The 
sacred clay given to pilgrims comes from this 
chamber, which was at some period built over it. 
The water, whilst passing through, is supposed to 
possess certain healing qualities. At the end of 
this passage and to the left of it reappears the 
streamlet, which runs a yard or two across the 
floor, turns off to the left again, and flows out 
through a crevice in the east wall, eventually 
joining the main stream in the valley below. 

As pilgrims follow the stream, and are not 
allowed to retrace their steps through the central 
hall, a small door is constructed in this wall, 
through which they pass into the open aif. The 
water-chambers just described have only been 
visited by one or two Christians; and even Layard 
was ignorant of their existence. A pace or two 
to the right and one comes to the south-east corner 
of the Temple, near which is carefully stacked, in 
an enclosure, about seventy-five years' accumula- 
tion of wood logs, offerings of pilgrims. This 
wood is only burnt during the annual sacrifice of 


the sacred white bull to the Sun God, and as 
many more logs are brought than are required, 
it is probable that a fatwa or proclamation is 
necessary every century or so to dispose of the 

Surrounding the Temple itself are guest- 
houses, 1 stables, stores and a bazaar consisting of 
a row of khans or small caves, where at times of 
pilgrimage may be obtained fruit, tobacco and 
sweetmeats. On the hillsides near the Temple are 
a number of caves, each named after -a Sheikh and 
supposed to be his tomb. They are lighted at dusk 
during festivals, but the oil is not replenished 
during the night. 5 " There are also a few buildings 
where the pilgrims live during the feasts. With 
the exception of the porch of the Temple itself, 
which has been practically rebuilt within the last 
fifteen years, little restoration has been carried out 
for many years, and parts of the walls are already 
crumbling away. It is extremely unlikely that 
the collection of buildings was at any time much 
greater than at the present time, as the configura- 
tion of the ground prevents extension. With 

1 Badger tells us that he, in 1844, was the first European 
to spend the night in one of these buildings. 

3 It has been computed that over three hundred and fifty 
lamps are lighted in the valley during the principal feast. 


regard to its origin, the Yezidis agree that their 
Temple was originally built by Christian workmen, 
and that the Valley of Sheikh 'Adi must have been 
a holy place long before the days either of 
Christians or Yezidis. They, however, admit that 
Christian monks may have had a settlement in the 
valley at the time of the Roman Empire. 

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the 
Turks made a determined attempt to destroy the 
place, and in 1897, when the late Lord Percy 
visited the Temple, he found it in partial ruin as 
a result of the 1892 attack. Certainly portions, 
particularly part of the north wall, appear to be 
much older than others, but much of the stonework 
has been merely rebuilt from fallen stones. Owing 
to the almost entire lack of inscriptions, it is 
extremely difficult accurately to fix even the date 
of its foundation. 

The most important of the ceremonies per- 
formed at the festivals held at Sheikh J Adi three 
times a year is the April feast, called the Feast of 
Assembly. Layard, in the first volume of- Nineveh 
and its Remains, and in his later work, Nineveh 
and Babylon, fully describes the rites he witnessed. 
To this feast, which lasts a week or ten days, come 
representatives from as many Yezidi tribes as 


possible. The ceremony, which is performed 
between the 1 5th and 2Oth of April, begins an hour 
after sunset. Sheikh 'Adi's sanjdq is first exhibited 
to the visiting Sheikhs and chief priests. The 
Qauwals then sing and play their instruments in 
the Inner Court, during which time the Sheikhs 
and others form a procession in pairs, led by the 
chief priest, which marches round in a .circle and 
sings to the praise of Sheikh 'Adi and afterwards 
of Melak Isa (Jesus Christ). The excitement 
gradually increases, the women in the Outer Court 
raise their shrill voices, the chanting becomes 
louder and louder, and the procession moves 
quicker and quicker with much stamping of feet 
until the leader gives the signal to stop. This 
ceremony having ended, all kiss the Serpent near 
the entrance to the Temple, and one member from 
each tribe fixes on the walls small bunches of 
flowers gathered from their villages. The Mir then 
receives the homage of the visiting Sheikhs, who 
kiss his hand. The villagers then kiss their 
Sheikh's hand. The younger men and women 
continue the dancing and singing in the Outer 
Court until a late hour. 

The next morning the Sheikhs utter a short 
prayer inside the Temple. This done, they remove 


the cloth cover from Sheikh 'Adi's tomb and carry 
it through the Inner to the Outer Court, the 
Qauwals playing the tambourines the while. All 
those assembled endeavour to kiss the cloth and 
make offerings. After the cover has been replaced, 
as many as possible sit round the Inner Court and 
the Kuchaks bring food and drink. A collection 
is now taken for the upkeep of the shrine. Dishes 
of meat are also brought by pilgrims for their 
Sheikhs, who signify their acceptance by tasting, 
and afterwards it is distributed to the lower grades 
of priests. The pilgrims usually return to their 
homes during the afternoon. 

On the last day of these ceremonies the oldest 
Faqir is sometimes stripped and dressed in a goat- 
skin, and small bells are hung round his neck. He 
then walks round the courts on all fours, uttering 
noises supposed to represent a he-goat. Those 
present are supposed to be particularly sanctified. 

On what is known as Qauwal's Road Day, the 
Faqirs wear a rope round their shoulders for carry- 
ing and lifting the wood brought by pilgrims to 
the shrine, which is then stacked near the 

New Year's Day, known as Sarisil, is, on the 
other hand, quietly celebrated. No music other 


than the funereal variety is played by the Qauwals, 
as the Yezidis believe that God is sitting on his 
throne decreeing their destiny for that year and is 
not to be disturbed. Bunches of red flowers, 
particularly wild red anemones, which abound in 
the neighbourhood, are brought by pilgrims to the 
tomb of their saint and fastened or stuck on near 
its entrance. These are left until they fall. 

In addition to their own feast days, the Yezidis 
also observe Christmas Day (of the " Prophet " 
Christ), the Bahrams and the Id of the Prophet 

The Faqir in charge of the shrines is responsible 
for making a nightly inspection with bitumen flares 
to see that the tomb is intact, and is allowed to 
expend moneys in the upkeep of the Temple. He 
also receives pilgrims' fees, and in former times fees 
at festivals ; this must have been a lucrative affair. 
For these privileges he pays the Mir a varying sum 
of money based on his takings for a number of 
previous years. He is also responsible for the safe 
keeping of the headquarter sanjaq. It was once 
removed to Mosul without his knowledge, but it 
reappeared before the next festival and the priest 
escaped with a mild punishment. Whilst at Ba 
Idhra, the question of permission to view this 


image was broached to Sa'id Beg, who said he 
would mention the matter to the guardian of the 
tomb. As we expected, nothing further was said 
in our presence at Sheikh 'Adi of the image, and 
our guide informed us in English that if we were 
to be allowed to inspect Melak Ta'us, the Mir 
would have said so himself. A decree from the 
Mir alone would remove any scruples from the 
mind of the priest as to the advisability of its 
exhibition before Christians. We did not therefore 
like to press the matter again, especially as we 
had been allowed to wander round the courtyards 
freely, and we felt there was nothing to be gained 
by further questionings. 

Having again sipped another cup of the excellent 
brew of tea offered us, we made our salaams to the 
priests and attendants, gave a pilgrim's offering to 
Faqir and Qauwal, and mounted our beasts. In 
single file we slowly rode down the sacred gorge, 
accompanied as far as the outer entrance by the 
smiling young Sheikh, still smoking his full-sized 

Turning in the saddle, I caught a last momentary 
glimpse through the trees of the fluted spires of this 
strangely situated shrine dedicated to the memory 
of Sheikh 'Adi, and then crossing the stream a 

S^^W^r : 









the cloth cover from Sheikh 'Adi's tomb and carry 
it through the Inner to the Outer Court, the 
Qauwals playing the tambourines the while. All 
those assembled endeavour to kiss the cloth and 
make offerings. After the cover has been replaced, 
as many as possible sit round the Inner Court and 
the Kuchaks bring food and drink. A collection 
is now taken for the upkeep of the shrine. Dishes 
of meat are also brought by pilgrims for their 
Sheikhs, who signify their acceptance by tasting, 
and afterwards it is distributed to the lower grades 
of priests. The pilgrims usually return to their 
homes during the afternoon. 

On the last day of these ceremonies the oldest 
Faqir is sometimes stripped and dressed in a goat- 
skin, and small bells are hung round his neck. He 
then walks round the courts on all fours, uttering 
noises supposed to represent a he-goat. Those 
present are supposed to be particularly sanctified. 

On what is known as Qauwal's Road Day, the 
Faqirs wear a rope round their shoulders for carry- 
ing and lifting the wood brought by pilgrims to 
the shrine, which is then stacked near the 

New Year's Day, known as Sarisal, is, on the 
other hand, quietly celebrated. No music other 


than the funereal variety is played by the Qauwals, 
as the Yezidis believe that God is sitting on his 
throne decreeing their destiny for that year and is 
not to be disturbed. Bunches of red flowers, 
particularly wild red anemones, which abound in 
the neighbourhood, are brought by pilgrims to the 
tomb of their saint and fastened or stuck on near 
its entrance. These are left until they fall. 

In addition to their own feast days, the Yezidis 
also observe Christmas Day (of the " Prophet " 
Christ), the Bahrams and the 'Id of the Prophet 

The Faqir in charge of the shrines is responsible 
for making a nightly inspection with bitumen flares 
to see that the tomb is intact, and is allowed to 
expend moneys in the upkeep of the Temple. He 
also receives pilgrims' fees, and in former times fees 
at festivals ; this must have been a lucrative affair. 
For these privileges he pays the Mir a varying sum 
of money based on his takings for a number of 
previous years. He is also responsible for the safe 
keeping of the headquarter sanjdq. It was once 
removed to Mosul without his knowledge, but it 
reappeared before the next festival and the priest 
escaped with a mild punishment. Whilst at Ba 
Idhra, the question of permission to view this 


image was broached to Sa'id Beg, who said he 
would mention the matter to the guardian of the 
tomb. As we expected, nothing further was said 
in our presence at Sheikh 'Adi of the image, and 
our guide informed us in English that if we were 
to be allowed to inspect Melak Ta'us, the Mir 
would have said so himself. A decree from the 
Mir alone would remove any scruples from the 
mind of the priest as to the advisability of its 
exhibition before Christians. We did not therefore 
like to press the matter again, especially as we 
had been allowed to wander round the courtyards 
freely, and we felt there was nothing to be gained 
by further questionings. 

Having again sipped another cup of the excellent 
brew of tea offered us, we made our salaams to the 
priests and attendants, gave a pilgrim's offering to 
Faqir and Qauwal, and mounted our beasts. In 
single file we slowly rode down the sacred gorge, 
accompanied as far as the outer entrance by the 
smiling young Sheikh, still smoking his full-sized 

Turning in the saddle, I caught a last momentary 
glimpse through the trees of the fluted spires of this 
strangely situated shrine dedicated to the memory 
of Sheikh 'Adi, and then crossing the stream a 







image was broached to Sa'id Beg, who said he 
would mention the matter to the guardian of the 
tomb. As we expected, nothing further was said 
in our presence at Sheikh 'Adi of the image, and 
our guide informed us in English that if we were 
to be allowed to inspect Melak Ta'us, the Mir 
would have said so himself. A decree from the 
Mir alone would remove any scruples from the 
mind of the priest as to the advisability of its 
exhibition before Christians. We did not therefore 
like to press the matter again, especially as we 
had been allowed to wander round the courtyards 
freely, and we felt there was nothing to be gained 
by further questionings. 

Having again sipped another cup of the excellent 
brew of tea offered us, we made our salaams to the 
priests and attendants, gave a pilgrim's offering to 
Faqir and Qauwal, and mounted our beasts. In 
single file we slowly rode down the sacred gorge, 
accompanied as far as the outer entrance by the 
smiling young Sheikh, still smoking his full-sized 

Turning in the saddle, I caught a last momentary 
glimpse through the trees of the fluted spires of this 
strangely situated shrine dedicated to the memory 
of Sheikh 'Adi, and then crossing the stream a 

' **. 


hundred yards or so farther on, our path led into 
a wider valley, where our procession re-formed. 

Unimaginative as Englishmen are supposed to 
be, I think we all felt that the valley we had just 
left was the nearest approach to our conception of an 
earthly paradise. Tucked away in the mountains 
of Kurdistan, far from modern ideas of civilization, 
where time is of little or no account, lives in seclu- 
sion a handful of fanatics, who rightly or wrongly 
believe in their faith and who honour the memory 
of one of their most devout departed. Speaking 
for myself, after a journey across the plains of 
Northern Traq, I never hope to set eyes upon a 
more peaceful scene than the place which we had 
just left. 

Following the same track as in our outward 
journey, after a ride of about two hours in the heat 
of the day,* we reached Ain Sifni and eventually 
Ba Idhra. 



IN order to avoid the difficulty the Yezidis at 
first experienced in referring to Satan, it became 
necessary to them to choose as an appellation a 
word which by the wildest stretch of imagination 
could not be put under the self-imposed ban forbid- 
ding the utterance of words having a sound similar 
to Shaitan. Thus it came about that the sacred 
symbol of the Mir's Master and Lord became a 
tfius (from the Greek tads 2 ') or peacock, 3 and the 

1 Sometimes known as : The Tempter, Beelzebub, The Prince 
of Devils, The Strong One, The Wicked One, The Enemy, The 
Hostile One, The Malignant One and The Prince of Darkness. 

3 One writer thinks ta'tis is a contraction of the name of 
the God Tammuz. 

8 Hera, the Greek goddess, appears with a peacock, her 
sacred bird, perched near her, in a group which is in the 
Palazzo degli Conservator! at Rome. The peacock of He"fvis 
mentioned in an article on symbolism in the Encyclopedia 
of Religion and Ethics, Vol. XI, p. 141. " The peacock, 



Devil, Satan, Shaitan, or the Evil or Fallen One 
call him what you will is spoken of as Melak 
Ta'us, or the Angel Peacock. 1 (The Yezidis 
would not recognize the usual horned, cloven- 
hoofed and forked-tail representative.) 

The word td'us probably reached the Yezidis 
through Persia, and it is significant that some of 
their sandjiq were made in that country. Melak 
Ta'us is considered by the Yezidis to be the master 
of this earth, all-powerful and all-present. They 
regard the Deity, not as continually warring against 
Heaven, but rather as having been granted power 
over this world by God's decree. They con- 
veniently disregard the facts that Melak Ta'us 
abused this power so as to give Adam much pain 
and abandoned him, and that it was necessary for 
an act of God to remedy the angel's false counsel. 

Prosperity and health, as well as sickness and 
disease, are in his power, and those who serve and 
worship him prosper, and those who curse him 
suffer. It is believed by his followers that certain 

which is Greek art, belonged to Hra, became to Christians a 
symbol of the resurrection, probably because the flesh of the 
peacock was supposed not to decay." 

1 Some think that the title should be translated King 
(Malik) Peacock, but the Yezidis regard the symbol purely as 
an angel. 


limits are set to his power over the material world 
and that he is not capable of witchery and sorcery 
such as were alleged to exist at the time of the 
Christian Martyrs. On the other hand, the power 
of Melak Ta'us in the celestial regions is supposed 
to be limitless, requiring much worship, and in the 
Black Book, this angel is credited, after Adam had 
been on the earth three hundred years, with the 
creation of the Yezidi nation as far as its rulers are 

Although the cult of the Peacock Angel, 1 as it 
is known in modern times, was probably founded a 
long time prior to the period of Sheikh 'Adi, it is 
possible that the image or sanjdq did not then 
occupy such a prominent position as it does to-day, 
and it is interesting to see that when the Sheikh 
died, Melak Ta'us, according to a legend, gained 
ascendancy over the people, bade all to honour his 
(Sheikh 'Adi's) memory, and was obeyed. It would 
seem that the Sheikh's successor took on the mantle 
of Melak Ta'us and issued a symbolic fatwa or 
ukase in his name. 

The Yezidis are careful to point out that the 
image of the Angel is merely a symbol, and not an 

1 The M6ri Clan of the Bhls of Central India worship the 
peacock when alive. 


idol of their faith, but to the lay mind this sounds 
like splitting hairs. It is not unusual for birds to 
be reverenced by pagan tribes, and it is thought 
that the symbol of the Yezidis is in substance the 
faruhar of Zoroastrianism. 

Very little is known of the actual sanajiq 
(symbols) now in use, and it is doubtful if half a 
dozen people outside the Yezidi faith have ever set 
eyes on any one of them. The following informa- 
tion throws some light on the question of their use 
in connection with the religious ceremonies at 
Sheikh 'Adi and elsewhere. 

In Layard's time, the image consisted of a brass, 
bronze or copper stand, of a shape somewhat 
similar to the candlesticks generally used in the 
Mosul liwd, which was surmounted by a rude image 
of a bird in the same metal, and more like an Indian 
idol than a peacock. 1 There were no inscriptions 
on it, and the bird and stand were made in three 
pieces for convenience during transit. This is 

1 The actual shape to some extent varies. The sketch made 
by Mrs. Badger of the one she and her sister-in-law saw at Ba 
Sheikh^ on aoth April, 1850, depicts the stand portion having 
two seven-pointed bowls (the top one slightly larger), which 
are intended to be used as receptacles for oil, and are ignited 
on special occasions. The image of the bird also was of less 
crude design than the one Layard describes. 


probably still the case with the images used by the 
travelling Qauwals, but the headquarter sandjiq are 
now more imposing and richly carved. (See 

At the festivals held at Sheikh 'Adi, all the 
sandjiq on the spot are exhibited to the visiting 
priests, except one which remains with the Mir and 
is carried with him wherever he may journey. 
Another is used by the outlying tribes in the 
Sheikhan district. 1 When Qauwals are sent to any 
distance to collect money for the support of the 
tomb and the priests, they are furnished with one 
of the small images (called ta'uskztshis) which is 
shown by them to those whom they visit as an 
authority for their mission. There are four of such 
Qauwals, who instruct young Yezidis in the faith, 
and are divided among four districts: Sinjar, 
Halitiya (south-east of Mardin and near Redwan in 
Diarbekr), Mallia (Aleppo) and Sarahdar or Moskov 
(Georgia). The Melak Ta'us carried by the 
Qauwals is usually protected by a red coverlet. 
These missions take place every four months. The 
ceremony varies according to the district and the 

1 Possibly the tribes who live east of the confluence of the 
Tigris and the Batwan Su and those south and west of 
Jaziratu-l-'Umar (Tigris). 


time of year, but the following account gives a 
general idea of what takes place. On approaching 
a village in the district about to be visited, the 
Qauwal responsible for the exhibition of Melak 
Ta'us sends an assistant on ahead on horseback to 
warn the inhabitants of his arrival. The latter don 
their best clothes and collect outside the village, all 
those who are not Yezidis being excluded. They 
move off in a procession to the place where the 
Qauwal is waiting. On meeting him, bidding 
among those present takes place for the honour of 
having the sanjaq exhibited at his house. The 
highest bid having been made, the Qauwal removes 
a saddlebag (containing the image) from his horse 
which is usually the property of a Pir, and places 
it across the shoulders of the waiting recipient. 
The procession then re-forms, with the Qauwal and 
the holder of the sanjaq at its head. On arriving 
at the latter's house, the visiting Qauwal removes 
the saddlebag and its red cover and places the 
symbol in a dish (tesht) of water, covering it with a 
square of silk. 

The eldest Qauwal now asks the assembly 
whether any are non-believers, and on being assured 
that only those of the Yezidi belief are in the room, 
he removes the cover and proceeds to go into a 


kind of trance, foaming at the mouth. He then 
chants a hymn until his head droops near the bird. 
Dead silence now reigns, and all present crouch 
round and gaze at the priest and the image. 
Although the Qauwal is apparently unconscious, he 
begins to sing very softly and a slight commotion 
is seen in the water. The Qauwal then rises and 
informs the worshippers that the spirit of Melak 
Ta'us has entered the image through the water. 
He then questions Melak Ta'us, who is supposed 
to answer. . 

Later, the Qauwal places the peacock on a 
pedestal and each of those present kneels and kisses 
it, placing his gift on a plate before the Qauwals, 
who also kneel near by. 

All having propitiated the Devil with offerings, 
music and dancing follow, and the image is some- 
times made to dance. The peacock remains in the 
house overnight, guarded by the owner and the 
Qauwals until it is removed the next day to continue 
its itinerary. 

The sanajiq on tour are carefully guarded by the 
visiting Qauwals, and on more than one occasion 
during troublous times ruses have had to be resorted 
to for their safe custody. Until 1892, it is under- 
stood, no image had ever been stolen or lost, but 


a rumour has it that about that time the principal 
peacock was removed from the shrine by a Kurd 
and taken to Mosul, where it was, however, dis- 
covered and supposed to have been returned to 
Sheikh 'Adi. A story is also current that in the 
same year when the Turks tried to convert the 
Yezidis living near Sheikh 'Adi to Muhammadan- 
ism, they took five of the images with them, but the 
Yezidis themselves have always maintained that they 
were imitations. 1 

On another occasion trouble was experienced in 
this respect, when, during the Bolshevik revolution 
of 1917, the Caucasus image disappeared and has 
not been heard of since. Indeed, it is doubtful 
if any Yezidi settlements of any size still exist in 
the country bordering the Black Sea. 

Formerly, in order that in times of trouble the 
travelling peacocks should not be captured and 
exhibited by aliens, they were made of wax so that 
they could be easily melted and so destroyed; but 
this practice had the obvious disadvantage of con- 
tinual involuntary replacements due to their melting 
during the fierce heat experienced in the summer 

1 The images were dedicated to Hadrat Di'ud, Sheikh 
Shamsu'ddin, Yezid ibn Mu'awiya, Sheikh 'Adi, and Sheikh 
Hasan al-Basrt. 


months. Also there was no guarantee that they 
were genuine, as it was a comparatively easy matter 
for counterfeits to be used by infidels bent on 
collecting contributions. 

It is rather difficult to imagine why such inordin- 
ate secrecy obtains in this respect, as from the point 
of intrinsic value the travelling sandjiq are worth 
perhaps a couple of shillings or so, and if regarded 
from any other point of view, including that of the 
Yezidi priests themselves, until the spirit of Melak 
Ta'us has entered therein, they are merely symbols 
of their order. It may be that the Qauwals imagine 
an act of desecration is committed in allowing 
Christian or Muslim eyes to regard this strange 
emblem of their faith, and this is feasible when 
their primitive mode of life is taken into considera- 

Melak Ta'us at one time had a flag, composed 
of three horizontal strips of red, green and white. 
The Yezidis believed that this had certain curative 
powers. For instance, when a woman became 
insane, the flag was put into some Sheikh 'Adi 
water and the woman on drinking it was supposed 
to be healed. 

I have come across the following information in 
a legend concerning the origin of the choice of a 

MELAK TA'ttS 143 

peacock by the Yezidis. 1 It is said that the Divine 
Will ordered the creation of seven spirits, who were 
to be responsible for the governance of the world. 
The first and foremost of these was Melak Ta'us, 
who was to reign for ten thousand years, of which, 
so the story goes, four thousand have yet to pass. 
Seven sheep are his sacrificial offering. The 
second spirit is Melak Isa (Jesus) whose reign has 
not yet begun. One sheep is his offering. Melak 
Isa will also reign ten thousand years when Melak 
Ta'us had finished, and so on. The first coming of 
Christ was premature and failed to break the power 
of evil. Christ, according to this legend, did not die 
upon the cross, 2 as Melak Ta'us snatched him away. 
Here we meet the first official explanation to account 
for Melak Ta'us being represented as a peacock. 
When the Maries came to the empty tomb and 
found nobody, Melak Ta'us appeared as a dervish 
and related what he had done. To silence their 

1 This somewhat differs from the Yezidis' general belief, as 
they put the reign of the seven angels at one thousand years, 
and, moreover, they do not believe that Melak 'Istl is a spirit, 
but an angel. 

* In this respect the legend agrees with their belief in 
ienying his crucifixion, and it is also in accordance with 
Muhammad's teaching (Kuran iv. 156). Soane, the well-known 
authority on Kurdistan, confirms this. 


doubts, he took a dead cock and restored it to life 
in their sight. He then vanished, first informing 
them that henceforth he would choose to be 
worshipped in the form of the most beautiful of 
birds, the peacock. 



As will be imagined, the written word as far as 
Yezidi doctrines are concerned, is almost unknown. 
Ignorance of writing has for a long time been 
fostered by the Mirs, and it was at one time believed 
that this was one of the tenets of their religion, but 
such is not the case. Fanatics and semi-fanatics 
are apt to be sceptical of books, and the refusal of 
the Yezidis to believe anything that has not been 
handed down from generation to generation is the 
chief stumbling block to their enlightenment. In 
addition to this, the Yezidis hide themselves away 
in difficult country, far from modern inventions, and 
thus are able to preserve their individuality. 

Some of the Qauwals have a smattering of the 
arts of reading and writing, but although the exist- 
ence of Holy Books is an open secret, it is only 
recently that anything definite has been discovered 

about their contents. No Muslim is allowed to see 

145 K 


or hear of them, in fact this was so rigidly enforced 
that a Yezidi who, it transpired, had revealed 
information concerning them was punished with 
death. No Yezidis other than the public readers 
may read these books, but those who understand 
Arabic may listen to extracts read by the Qauwals 
in that language. 

I. Mashaf Rds (Kurdish), Kitdb al-Aswdd (Arabic): 

The Black Book 

This book is supposed to have been completed 
by Sheikh Hasan al-Basri about A.D. 1342. It is 
in the keeping of Sheikh 'All, of Kasr'azu'ddin, 
near Semil. For a long time it was supposed to be 
the Qur'an in Arabic, with all references to the Evil 
One carefully deleted. (It was called "black" 
because the word " Shaitan " is blacked out.) 

The book is twenty-eight centimetres long 
and twenty-one centimetres wide, but the written 
portion only measures eleven centimetres from top 
to bottom, bearing one hundred and fifty-two lines 
of disjointed phrases. The language is an archaic 
Kurdish dialect. The cover is of wood. The 
book, when not in use, is covered with linen and a 


material dyed red, made from goat's wool. It was 
begun soon after Muhammad's death. It is more 
than probable that in its original form it contained 
but few lines, and it is possible that Sheikh 'Adi 
may have contributed to it. 

In its present form it is a mass of contradictions. 
The Yezidi belief in the creation of man varies 
considerably, as the disjointed tribal jottings found 
in the Mashaf Rds contain statements to the effect 
that the angel Fakhru'ddin was responsible for this 
after he broke the great pearl from which the 
universe came into being, and later on God Himself 
is mentioned in the book as having created man from 
the elements brought by Jabra'il. Incidentally, it 
mentions that Sheikh 'Adi ibn Musafir will come 
from Syria to inhabit Lalishi (the hills in the district 
of the Holy Temple). 

The power of evil is represented as tempting 
man to disobey God's commands, with the per- 
mission of God. Regarding the creation of the 
universe, again Mashaf Rds .contradicts itself, as 
both God and Fakhru'ddin are mentioned as being 
responsible. Later also, when speaking of the 
heavens, God, Jabra'il and the first of the six 
created gods are credited with the achievement. 
In this book it says that God caused nipples to 


grow on Adam in order that he might suckle the 
boy and girl (the first Yezidis) born in jars, and 
adds that this is the reason why man has nipples. 
It also contains a statement that the first fathers 
of the Yezidis are Seth, Noah and Enoch, who 
were conceived by Adam only. Adam is mentioned 
as having afterwards known Eve, who bore him 
two children, male and female, and that from these 
all other religions are descended. Mu'awiya is 
mentioned as a servant of Muhammad, and his son 
Yezid is their god. 

Several interesting tabus are found in its pages, 
notably the wearing of the colour blue. This 
colour is considered by Muslims to have power to 
ward off the Evil Eye, and the book seems to 
assume that devotees of the worship of Melak 
Ta'us are immune from this particular evil. The 
eating of certain foods is also forbidden; firstly 
lettuce, the tabu being said to have originated 
during Sheikh "Adi's lifetime. The story is that he 
was passing a garden and called to this vegetable, 
which, of course, did not answer him. He then 
called out huss (worthless) and forbade Yezidis to 
eat it. Another reason given for not eating 
lettuce is that the word sounds like the name of 
a Yezidi prophetess, Hassia. Other foods, which 


are similarly tabu, are fish, out of reverence for 
the prophet Jonah; gazelle, believed to be the 
sheep of one of the prophets; cock, representing 
the image of the peacock; pumpkin, haricot beans, 
and bdmiya (marrow). 

Public baths and latrines are forbidden, and all 
Yezidis are enjoined to urinate sitting down and 
to pull on their nether garments standing up. 

In addition to a veto on the use of the full word 
Shaitan, words having a similar sound are also 
forbidden such as kaitan, thread; shatt, river (for 
which nahr is substituted) ; sharr, meaning " the 
coming." Other tabued words connected with the 
idea of Shaitan are malun meaning accursed, and 
similar sounding words such as la' an, cursed ; ndl, 
slang for curse (it also means sandal, and horse- 
shoe), and na'l-band, a farrier. 

2. Kitdb al-filwa (Arabic), sometimes rendered 
Ktebi Jalwe : The Book of Enlightenment or 


This book is supposed to have been written 
about A.D. 1162 by Sheikh Fakhru'ddin, secretary 
to Sheikh 'Adi, at his dictation. It is much revered 


by the Yezidis. Few of the rank and file have ever 
read its pages, and the priests jealously guard its 

The book is written in an old dialect of Kurdish, 
and in special characters in its more secret portions. 
Whilst extolling the power of Melak Ta'us, who 
speaks throughout in the first person, it lays down 
no precepts or codes, but simply promises reward 
to the devotees of the Lord of Evil, who reverence 
him, and a calamitous end to those who do not. 

Each page consists of sixteen lines, and I am 
given to understand that the book consists of loose 
pieces of parchment made from gazelle-skin, 
measuring twenty-seven by nineteen centimetres, of 
which the written portion, consisting of sixteen lines, 
takes up seventeen by eleven centimetres. Symbolic 
designs appear, such as a crescent, the planets, a 
horned human head, and a multi-tongued flame of 
fire. The original copy, wrapped up in linen and 
silk wrappings, was (for a time at least) kept in 
the house of the Mulla Haidar of Ba Idhra, and 
twice a year, during the April and October feasts, 
it is taken to Sheikh 'Adi. 

Most of what is known to-day of this work was 
gleaned by Pere Anastase Marie, a Baghdadi 
Carmelite, originally through a Yezidi named 


Habeb, between the years 1898 and 1900. This 
Yezidi, who has since died, desired instruction in 
the Christian faith from the Pere, and revealed 
certain secrets of his renounced religion. Before 
he died he informed the learned Father that the 
books were then in the care of a librarian and lay 
hidden in the Sinjar. Subsequently the librarian 
was found, who offered for a consideration of five 
hundred francs to make tracings of the books, a 
laborious process, as he was only allowed access 
to them during the quarterly feasts. The task took 
two years to complete, and was most carefully done. 
Not even the Yezidis themselves know of the 
whereabouts of either of these books, except during 
festivals, when they are exhibited to the Qauwals. 
No Christian or Muslim has even been permitted 
even to see them. In times of danger the manu- 
scripts are kept locked in a wooden and silver box, 
measuring thirty-three centimetres long, twenty- 
two centimetres wide, and seven centimetres high, 
which is hidden in a cave having a concealed 
entrance. Three keys are in existence, one each 
being held by the Mir, the Grand Sheikh and the 
librarian himself. On the lid of the box are silver 
images of the seven angels, as follows : in the 
centre is a silver peacock, the symbol of Melak 


Ta'us ; to its right is the Sun ; to the left is the Moon. 
In each corner are symbols, also in silver, represent- 
ing the earth, air, fire and water. There is also an 
eighth image, situated just above the peacock, in the 
shape of a star, which it is believed was fixed at 
a later date, its significance being rather obscure. 

3. The Poem of Sheikh 'Adi 

There is also, or was, a volume consisting of 
a few tattered leaves containing a rhapsody on the 
merits and attributes of Sheikh 'Adi. In this 
singular recitation, in verse 58, Sheikh 'Adi 
expressly says that the All-merciful, meaning the 
Creator of all things, has given him names, and 
the Yezidis admit him to be a prophet or a vice- 
gerent of the Almighty, thus disposing of the 
fallacy that Sheikh 'Adi and the Almighty are one 
and the same in the eyes of the Yezidis. 

This work contains eighty lines or verses 
extolling his virtues. He informs us in verse 57 
that he is 'Adi as-Shami ('Adi the Syrian), which 
is supposed by a translator to be the Damascene, 
and is the son of Musafir. In verse 17 allusion is 


made to the Book of Enlightenment, and in verse 
42 is mentioned the " Book that comforteth the 
oppressed," which is supposed to be the same 
work, namely the falwe, containing the theology and 
religious laws. 

Most careful and annotated translations of the 
two chief Holy Books are given in volume six of. 
Anthropos, 1911. Parts of the original text are 
also given there, including the secret alphabet 
used. 1 

1 Professor A. Mingana is of the opinion that Pere Marie's 
Kurdish translation of the Ktebi falwe, together with those of 
Professor E. G. Browne (Arabic, 1895), Mr. J. B. Chabot and 
Mr. S. Giamil (Syriac, 1900), and Dr. I. Joseph (Arabic, 1909), 
are all based on documents, the authenticity of which he doubts. 
Mingana gives the name of one Shammas Jeremias Shamir, a 
deserter from the monastery at Rabban Hormuzd, who died in 
1906, as their probable author, and states that from their 
construction they are not much more than half a century old. 
Certainly their contents were unknown in the sixties of last 
century, though Dr. Forbes, when on a visit to the Sinjar in 
1838, heard of the Black Book, and was told that Sheikh 'Adi 
was the author. The Rev. A. N. Andrus of Mardin also casts 
doubt on the genuineness of A. Marie's discovery, and asks 
why the books were not under the care of the Mir at Ba Idhra. 
In the absence of proof to the contrary, the scepticism of 
Professor Mingana must be respected. A story is current that 
the genuine documents were lost in 1849 from the Sinjar, and 
accidentally discovered in 1889 in India. It is not known if 
they were subsequently returned. Captain G. R. Driver also 
mentions the fact that the works purporting to be the sacred 
books of the Yezidi were being circulated in 'Iraq a few years 
ago, but it is considered that they were forgeries. 


There are also several prayers and hymns which 
are chanted during festivals, but none of these have 
been set down in writing, and indeed if they were, 
it would be a waste of time, as no Yezidi would be 
able to read them. 



IN a discussion on origin of faith, no less than 
origin of species, it is well not to dogmatize, but 
there is much to be said for the belief that the 
beginnings of the worship of the Devil by the 
Yezidis sprang from the rituals of the Zoroastrians, 
who have for centuries been becoming less numer- 
ous and influential in Asia. The points of similarity 
between the Yezidis and the Zoroastrians include 
the veneration of fire and the sun, also the worship 
of mulberry trees and a horror of the Evil Eye. 
The Persian Manes, who may be regarded as a 
disciple of Zoroaster, added beliefs of his own to 
those of the Persian Dualists and moulded them, 
giving Satan precedence over all other heavenly 

The cult of Manes dwindled at the close of the 
tenth century, and for nearly two hundred years 
Dualism was at a low ebb in Persia, consequently, 

on the coming of Sheikh 'Adi from the Zoroastrian 



element in Western Persia, the wilder people were 
ready to accept anything in the nature of a new 
doctrine; but as the Shi'as have always been 
powerful in that district, it is conceivable that the 
dissatisfied tribes found it desirable to emigrate to 
territory more suited to the cultivation of, after all, 
an unorthodox religion. The " Persian Prophet " 
prediction had undoubtedly made an impression on 
the Persians, who under Sheikh ' Adi's influence 
adopted the new doctrine as a native cult, a little 
removed from purely pagan belief. As the fame 
of the Saint grew, large, numbers flocked to the 
hilly districts outside Shi'a influence, and although 
they were originally unknown as Yezidis by the 
other tribes, I am of the opinion that, owing to 
their new dwellings being situated chiefly in 
Kurdistan, they became known as the Worshippers 
of Yazed (Kurdish for Devil). 

Moreover, though the Arabian Muslims have 
from time to time produced heretical sects, the 
practice of Dualism, on which it may be said the 
Yezidis based their early beliefs, undoubtedly 
originated in Persia long before the Kuran was 

Muhammad, in laying down precepts for his 
followers, counted on undivided support, and taking 


into consideration the plastic religious state of the 
Middle East at the time, he secured it as far as was 
possible. The tribes who did not entirely embrace 
the new religion formed a small minority, and never 
at any time had any great hold over the mass of 
Arabian peoples, as the schismatics had nothing 
lasting with which to replace Muhammad's teach- 
ings. Thus their sporadic rebellions came to 

Some writers connect the Persian word Yazdan, 
meaning Good Spirit, and Yezid Farfar, a certain 
Evil Spirit, worshipped by the Persian Parsee 
element, with the name of Yezidi. Also it must 
not be forgotten that numbers of Zoroastrians from 
the Persian province of Yezd have emigrated from 
that country to adjacent territories. It is just 
possible, therefore, that one or more of these nearly 
similar words may have contributed to the tribes 
under review adopting the name they now bear. 
One has only to live among the Kurdish tribes for 
a short time to realize how the Persian type of 
Yezidi predominates. 

Finally, authorities like Badger and Professor 
Jackson identify the Zoroastrian Dualists with the 
old Persian Yezidis to such a degree that it is 
highly probable that the eleventh and twelfth 


centuries, due to the mystical welding influence 
of Sheikh 'Adi, saw the rise of a faith emerging 
from little more than Dualism and Nature Worship. 
Although it is true that the Yezidis themselves 
cannot explain exactly how the Saint became con- 
nected with their faith, the reverence paid to him 
is such that one cannot for a moment neglect to 
believe that without his presence amongst them, the 
emigrant Persian tribes would have continued their 
wanderings, leaving no trace of another religion in 
Kurdistan. Since then, however, it has for many 
centuries been reinforced by oppressed neighbour- 
ing tribes from Persia, 'Ir&q and Syria, who absorbed 
the essential teachings of Sheikh 'Adi. A check 
on immigration has occurred during recent years, 
owing to continual hostility of the Turkish Muslims 
to the Yezidis in Asia Minor, but it is fairly safe to 
prophesy that as long as the tribes of this strange 
sect do not themselves stir up religious feeling, 
British protection will at least prevent a repetition of 
the massacre which occurred during the nineteenth 







I AM asked to write a Commentary, which shall not 
be perfunctory, on the latest first-hand account of 
the Yezidis, usually known as the Devil Worshippers 
of Kurdistan. I feel some diffidence in intervening 
in this subject, as so many scholars have tried their 
hands at elucidating the Yezidi rites, yet it cannot 
be said that research has so far succeeded in 
exhausting it. I may note here that the term for 
these Devil Worshippers in the index, though not 
in the text, oi \heEncy do p<zdia;Britannica, eleventh 
edition, is Yezedi. Driver, Religion of the Kurds, 
in the Bulletin 6f the School of Oriental Studies, 
calls them the Yezidi Kurds. 

I will commence my remarks by asserting as 
does also the author of this book that the Yezidis 
in Muslim environment are not Devil Worshippers, 
just as I pointed out in 1894, when editing 
Dr. A. 0. BurnelPs manuscripts on the Devil 

Worship of the Tuluvas in South Western India, 

161 L 


that they, too, in Hindu enyironment, did not 
worship the Devil. Yet another race of " Devil 
Worshippers " with whom I was once familiar for 
a number of years the Nicobarese, who are Far- 
Eastern Animists were so far from worshipping 
the Devil that the " worship " really consisted of 
ceremonial acts to scare away evil spirits. These 
acts were performed in connection with images set 
up in their houses and elsewhere, which were in 
reality spirit-scar ers. They were taught by mission- 
aries of various kinds to call these images " devils," 
and they still so call them when speaking to English 
people. Mr. Empson states in addition that there 
are numbers of Devil Worshippers in Persian 
Seistan, whence the people have a tendency to 
migrate towards Kurdistan. In their case the 
worship is of mulberry trees containing " the Spirit 
of Satan," i.e., an evil spirit, just as innumerable 
trees in India and farther East are held to do. 

In one sense the entire illiterate population of 
Hindu India may be called Devil Worshippers, 
though the term is always a misnomer. The general 
feeling in such people is that there is a Supreme 
Being who governs human life and its surroundings 
and is beneficent, and there are also other super- 
natural beings who can do harm in various degrees ; 


but the Supreme Being is very far removed and the 
lesser supernatural beings are always close at hand,. 
So harm might be inflicted before good could inter- 
vene. It is therefore well to propitiate the lesser 
harmful beings always, while worshipping the 
Supreme Being on set occasions. It seems to me 
that these observations represent the feelings which 
permeate the minds of the Yezidis also. They 
propitiate the Evil Spirit while believing in the 
existence of God. It must be remembered, how- 
ever, in applying generalities to illiterate peoples 
that among them all religious feelings, however 
strong they may be, are vague and subject to 
unintelligent obedience to custom. 

It has been observed above that the environment 
of the Yezidis is Muhammadan, and therefore in 
regard to their religious beliefs they are best studied 
as a Muhammadan sect, just as are the Nusairis, 
Qizilbashis, Baqtashis, and a host of other eclectic 
heretical sects, which have beliefs and customs far 
removed from those of orthodox Islam. Looking 
at them in this light, they should be classed as 
Ghulat, or if it is desired to use that plural term 
in the singular with an Anglicized plural as 
Ghaliyas. The Arabic term ghaVi, gMliya, plural, 
ghulat, signifies an extremist, one who exaggerates 


or goes beyond all bounds, particularly in reverence 
for certain things or individuals, as when certain 
sects, e.g., the 'Aliyu'llahi, raised Muhammad's 
son-in-law 'Ali and his descendants or chief 
followers, the 'Alids, to the rank of incarnations 
of the Deity (Allah) ; or as when the same and 
certain other sects adopted beliefs foreign to 
Islam, like incarnation (hulul) or metempsychosis 
(tanasukK) and so on. I propose in this Commen- 
tary to treat the Yezidis at Ghulat, as I think it can 
be shown that the basis of their religion is Islamic, 
with a large admixture of other faiths with which 
they have come in contact at some time or other: 
e.g., aboriginal Paganism, Nestorian Christianity, 
and Zoroastrianism in some form. This is really 
the history of almost any heterodox Islamic sect one 
may mention. 

The tendency of the Yezidis to adopt any 
extremist belief, however pagan in its nature, is 
shown in a story of one of their leaders given by 
Mr. Empson, Mirza Agha, who, during the Turkish 
persecution of the Yezidis in 1832-47, set up as 
an independent Yezidi chief for a while in Redwaii, 
in Armenian Asia Minor, and secretly worshipped 
Semfram, i.e., " the goddess Semiramis in the 
manner that the Syrian Nusairis used to do." 


In Islam heterodoxy began in the very days of 
Muhammad himself, for he was not by any means 
allowed to have his own way in things religious 
without opposition. Sects at the very first sprang 
up in numbers; as soon, in fact, as his followers 
had time to look into the Qur'an and endeavour to 
interpret the meaning of the texts. The great 
schism of Sunni or orthodox traditionists, and also, 
as they may be called, followers of Muhammad, 
and Shi'a, or followers of 'Ali, began at the latest 
immediately after the death of the Prophet, and 
largely from political causes has continued ever 
since. Another way of looking at these two chief 
divisions of Islam is to hold that, very roughly, the 
Sunni sects are the puritans and that the Shi'a are 
the ritualists of the religion. In this view the 
sects, presenting an infinite variety of opinion, that 
have risen up in immense numbers on the ritualistic, 
i.e., the Shfa side, are more likely to produce and 
absorb extreme ideas than those on the Sunni side; 
and, as I read history, this has been the case. 
Indeed, among them every possible sort of extra- 
vagance and divergence from the original tenets 
and fundamental beliefs of Islam has occurred. 
The unorthodox ideas attributed to the Yezidis are 
by no means the most estranged, and it is not more 


difficult to include them in the Muslim fold than 
many another heterodox community. 

Mr. Empson describes the Yezidis as an 
unpromising field for Christian missionary enter- 
prise. I can well believe this to be the case. 
Centuries of minority combined with persecution 
have caused their faith to have an undue value in 
their eyes and roused the martyr's spirit. But 
even without any attempt at ill-treatment, it is 
quite possible for missionary efforts to fail with 
" Devil Worshippers," or, as I should prefer to 
call them, Animists, believers in the power of 
" Spirits." In the Nicobar Islands of the Bay of 
Bengal, where no kind of coercion has been used, 
two centuries of missionary effort on the part of 
several European Christian creeds and nations 
Roman Catholic, Protestant, Moravian failed to 
have any effect whatever on the Nicobarese, beyond 
giving them a few names, such as Devil for a Spirit 
and also for a Spirit-scaring image, Deuse for the 
Chief of the Spirits, and Devil-murder for the 
execution by a sort of communal law of one deemed 
to be possessed by an evil spirit and thus gravely 
undesirable to the community. It is only quite 
lately that Protestant Christianity has taken any 
hold in one of the islands, Car Nicobar, 


Like the rest of the world including all 
extremist sects of whatsoever kind or nation the 
Yezidis have a tendency to split into sub-sects, 
which follow, at any rate for a time, some un- 
orthodox leader unorthodox, that is, in Yezidi 
eyes. There is one such mentioned by Mr. 
Empson in Hamo Shero of Milik, who is a very 
old man and has a following of his own. 

If, then, we may class the Yezidis as a sect of 
Shfa Ghulat or Extremists, all that is further 
necessary is to inquire into the details of their 
heterodoxy. It will be found to consist of foisting 
on to an Islamic base bits of all kinds of beliefs, 
just as do the Lalbegi scavengers of Northern 
India, who are " outcastes " and have a creed of 
their own a shadowy deity, Lai Beg, being the 
object of their veneration. They have priests, or 
perhaps we had better call them leaders, and some 
"books." On inquiring into their belief in 1883 
(Legends of the Panfab, I, 529 ff.), I found that it 
had a Hindu basis, on to which were grafted ideas 
from Islam and Christianity, and that it really con- 
sisted in holding to be holy anything that was found 
to be considered holy by the people with whom 
they came in contact. It was indeed Hagiolatry, 
of course, in a garbled fashic-n. This is precisely 


what the Yezidis have apparently done with a 
Muslim basis. Their action has been the outcome 
of a natural process of the human, brain. There 
has been no imagination to speak of, but a deter- 
mination on the part of some independent intellect 
of the days gone by to become " peculiar," and 
found a sect, of which he is naturally to be the 
leader. Later on he, or at any rate certain others^ 
profited personally by the leading, and so the sect 
ran on, as everywhere, and especially in the East, 
such persons have always found followers. 

One can see, in fact, how the Yezidis and their 
religion came about from the study of an analogous 
story in the Panjab. There is in that region a 
Muslim shrine with a special cult famous all over 
the province, erected to a saint named Sakhi 
Sarwar at Nigaha, in the foothills of the Salaiman 
Range in the Dera Ghazi Khan District. The cult 
has a Hindu basis with a strong Muslim gloss, and 
is typical of those of Guru Guza and Shah Madar 
alias Ghazi Miyan of Northern India and Oudh. 
Indeed, in their cases there is a 'dual personality 
one Hindu and one Muslim. The shrine of 
Sakhi Sarwar is very popular and has still a large 

Sakhi Sarwar as a name means the Lord of 


Generosity, the Bringer of Wealth, and. his story 
in outline is as follows: About 1120 a holy man, 
perhaps an Isma'iliya, and so a Shi'a, from 
Baghdad, with the title of ZainuTabidin settled at 
Shahkot in the Jhang District of the Panjab. 
There he married among the Hindu Khokars and 
had a son, Sayyid Ahmad, who went to Dhaunkal 
in the Gujranwala District where a family of Mona 
Jatts became his followers, and this aroused enmity 
in this Hindu clan. He fled to Multan and thence 
to Nigaha, where he settled, and was finally killed 
at forty-six years of age in 1 1 74 in a faction fight 
over division of property with" the Hindu heirs 
of his father's Indian family. After his death, 
interested followers and some members of his 
family set up a shrine to his memory at Nigaha, 
inaugurated a special cult and established a fair 
in April, in a manner which is very common in 
India and familiar to all students of Indian 
hagiology. The shrine is still maintained by 
hereditary mujawirs, or attendants, and wandering 
bharams, or bards, who act as missionaries (da'is). 
Although the cult is professedly Muslim, its 
followers belong to all castes and creeds, and 
the Hindu basis is clear throughout the ceremonies, 
traditions and customs, and also in the stories told 


by the bards. An examination of the Yezidis, and 
their shrine and the customs connected with it, 
will serve to show the reader that they must 
mutatis mutandis have a history of the same 

The situation of the Yezidis is, in fact, 
universal in the case of local heterodox tribes 
which have founded a sect of their own. A similar 
tribal position has been discovered in Burma in 
conditions totally differing from those of the 
Yezidis, and is recorded in the present writer's 
study of the Thirty-Seven Nats, 1906 (page 19), 
where it is stated that " Andrew Lang in his 
Custom and Myth has correctly laid down an 
axiom : ' What the religious instinct has once 
grasped, it does not as a rule abandon, but 
subordinates or disguises when it reaches higher 
ideas.' This accounts for the phenomenon in 
Burma, both among the cultivated and the wild 
tribes of to-day, of an overlay of Buddhism on the 
indigenous Animism in so many of the practices 
and beliefs connected with the worship of the Nats 
or Spirits. As Christianity in Europe and as 
Muhammadanism in Asia, so Buddhism in Burma 
has strongly tinged, but not 'destroyed, the older 
form of belief. A story told in Smeaton's Loyal 


Karens of Burma, explains the whole situation 
whether observed in Burma, India, or elsewhere. 
It relates how some children, left by their parents 
in a safe place out of the reach of beasts of prey, 
were, nevertheless, so frightened at the approach 
of a tiger that, to save themselves, they took some 
pigs that had been placed in the shelter with them 
and threw them down for the tiger to devour. 
c Their eyes, however/ so the story runs, ' were 
fixed not on the tiger, but on the path by which 
they expected to see their father come. Their 
hands fed the tiger from fear, but their ears were 
eagerly listening for the twang of their father's 
bow-string which would send the arrow quivering 
into the tiger's heart. And so, say the Karens, 
although we have to make sacrifices to demons, 
our hearts are still true to God. We must throw 
sops to the foul demons who afflict us, but our 
hearts are ever looking for God.' Such is the 
reasoning of the Karens, who have for a long time 
past become largely Christian. It is good to stand 
well with both God and Mammon is the practical 
reasoning, too, of the masses all the world over 
[including the Yezidis]. They are always eclectic, 
so far as their general ignorance permits. 

By way of explaining how the religion of 


Eastern peoples appeared to the early European 
travellers and how the term " Devil Worship " 
arose as a name for it, some remarks may be 
quoted from a forthcoming work of my own on 
the Italian traveller, Varthema. He wandereid in 
the East Arabia, Persia, Indian and farther 
Indian coasts, and the Malay Archipelago from 
1502 to 1508, and produced his book in 1510, so 
he is one of the earliest of the European writers 
on travel in the East. He gives a quaint account 
of the religion of the people in South India in 
the following words : " The King of Calicut is a 
pagan and worships the devil in the manner you 
shall hear." He must, in fact, have observed 
various ceremonies at Hindu temples and mixed 
them up with recollections of conversations with 
educated people. European languages, especially 
Spanish, were known to many mamluk (foreign) 
slaves in India in Varthema's time: "They 
acknowledge that there is a God, who has created 
the heaven and the earth and all the world." He 
is here giving voice to his impressions after 
inquiry about educated Hindus, and then he passes 
on to an account of the belief in the Hindu godling 
or devata, who does both good and evil to 
mankind and is therefore much propitiate'd : 


" The Devil they call Deumo and God they call 
Tamarani," i.e., the name for the godling is devan 
and that for the Supreme God is Tamburan, Lord 
or Master. Under the title of Sathanas (Satan) 
he describes the images of the terrible goddess 
Kali, and as to his account of her worship, he must 
have looked on at some ceremonies of the lower 
orders, nowadays classed together as " Devil 
Worship," and far removed from the religious 
observances of the philosophic and thoughtful 
Hindu. There is, however, evidence to show that 
he applied the term Sathanas to any prominent 
Hindu image. Varthema also notices the " devil- 
dancing " ceremonies used at the planting of a 
cornfield, and on exorcising the evil spirit supposed 
to possess those who are seriously ill. 

The Yezidi Kurds have attracted a good deal 
of attention owing to the European description of 
them as Devil Worshippers, but as a matter of 
sober fact, they do not differ greatly from some of 
the neighbouring Kurdish ghulat in their extremism. 
The Qizilbashis or Redcap Kurds, who are Shi'a 
ghulat, have, for instance, a large Black Dog, " in 
which they see the image of the Divinity," and 
worship him with obscene rites. They go, in 
fact, to greater extremities in their heterodoxy than 


do the Yezidis with their Peacock, Melak Ta'us, 
representing Shaitan, the Muslim Devil. Again, 
in their cult, as we shall see, of trees, the Yezidis 
have their counterparts as Driver, Bulletin of the 
School of Oriental Studies (1922, II, 198), has 
pointed out in the tribes of Asia Minor, probably 
Zaza Kurds, which worship the trees of the 
forest, and have altars formed of rude blocks of 
stone like dolmens or menhirs in the recesses of 
their country, but nevertheless are accounted to be 
Shi'a Muslims. 


It may be safely stated that the modern Yezidi 
attitude towards the Deity is that there is a 
Supreme Being who is God, together with minor 
gods that have other names and separate origins, 
and all must be worshipped and propitiated. The 
Yezidis' name for God is the Persian and Turkish 
appellation Khuda, Lord. The other gods are 
known as Yezid, Sheikh 'Adi, and Sheikh 
Shamsu'ddin, Fakhru'ddin, and Sheikh Hasan 


al-Basri. There are also of equal power and 
therefore consequence Melak Ta'us, the Lord 
Peacock or Peacock Angel, and Shaitan, Satan or 
the Devil. It must be repeated here that their 
ideas as to a deity, his attributes and his powers, 
are all very vague. 

We hear but little of God, Khuda, as he is 
too remote and not of this world. He comes to 
the earth at the chief temple or shrine on New 
Year's Day (Sarisal) to sit on his throne there and 
fix destiny for the coming year. On this occasion 
funereal music is played, and in this fact there is 
a hint of a recollection of Tammuz, the very ancient 
Babylonian hero-god, of whom more anon. 

Nevertheless the legend of Khuda coming to 
the earth at the chief Yezidi temple on New 
Year's Day refers to a belief that is practically 
universal, and there is an almost exact parallel to 
it among the Burmese, who are now a Buddhist 
people, and yet they have a general faith in 
supernatural beings or Spirits, whom they call 
Nats. These Nats are relics of their religion 
before they became Buddhists. It will, therefore, 
be useful to quote here what is said about them 
in my Thirty -seven Nats (1906), pages 69 ff., as it 
seems to explain the religious attitude of the 


Yezidis. " Thagya Nat is, by the common 
acceptation of every Burman, the prince of the 
Nats of whatever nature or degree: the No. i of 
all Nats. The antiquity of his cult is indicated by 
his name, Thagya, which represents the Sanskrit 
word Shakra, and not Sakka, the Pali equivalent 
thereof, thus throwing the date of the cult back 
to the early times when the debased Northern 
(Sanskrit) form of Buddhism was current in 
Burma and before the present purer Southern 
(Pali) form began to prevail. The Shakra of the 
Indian Buddhism was the great god Indra of the 
Brahmans, the Lord of the Firmament, turned by 
the Buddhists into the lowest of the three great 
ruling angels of the heavens, whom they set up 
on adapting the old Brahmanic cosmogony to their 
reformed ' ideas/ " 

In the Buddho-Brahmanic mythology connected 
with Thagya Nat, " the Tavatimsa Heaven (the 
Tawadentha of the Burmese) is the second out of 
seven removed from the earth. ... It is inhabited 
by the Sakka or Thagya angels, of which the 
archangel, or king, is the deposed god Shakra or 
Indra of the older Brahmans and the Thagya Nat 
of the Burmese. Thagya exercises a wholly 
beneficial influence on mankind, and when a good 


man is struggling with adversity, the fact is made 
known to Thagya by his throne becoming hot. 
He then comes in disguise to the relief of the 
sufferer. ... In the Burma of the present day, 
it is Shakra, as Thagya, who takes the most 
important place and is the Nat that is the Lord 
of Life, the Recording Angel, the supernatural 
being most revered and most respected. At the 
commencement of the year, during the Thingyan 
or Water Festival, so familiar to all foreign 
residents in Burma, he visits the earth for three 
days for the general good; and I well recollect, 
in the last Burmese War, that in the afternoon of 
the most important of these days, at the beginning 
of the year 1250 B.E. (April, 1888), there was a 
sudden and vivid flash of lightning, followed by 
crashing thunder, which gave great satisfaction to 
the people of the royal city of Mandalay, because 
it was positive evidence to them of the presence 
among them of Thagya himself in the days of 
their adversity (Third Burmese War, 1885-89), 
a notion having its roots in the very foundation of 
Indian belief." 

Yezid, whence Yezidi, is the name for God, 
and as such he has a place in the great Temple in 
conjunction with Melak Ta'us and Sheikh 'Adi. 



He has a lamp of his own there and texts dedicated 
to him, invoking the mercy of God. At the same 
time he is not held to be so unapproachable as 
Khuda. It may be here noted that Yazid, a deity 
of the Tarhoya Kurds, who are not " Devil 
Worshippers," is identified with tree worship, and 
that trees are frequently worshipped by the Yezidis, 
especially the mulberry as a healer. They 'even 
have names as Sitt (Lady) Nafisa and 'Abdi Rash 
(? the Black Slave). One mulberry tree near a 
spring, called Sheikh Baliko, is even more highly 
honoured, and vows are made to it for health, 
when rags are tied to its branches in the world- 
wide animistic fashion. This gives one origin for 
the term Yezid, God, and a derivation of the title 
Yezidi, but there are others which will be discussed 
later, and it should be said that in the Yezidi 
" Books " the god Yezid is stated to be Yezid ibn 
Mu'awiya, the fourth Caliph, from whom their title 
is generally said to come. 

Sheikh 'Adi is a term for God, or rather as 
the name for a god much more often in the 
Yezidi mind than either Khuda or Yezid is on a 
a different footing altogether, because a Sufi saint 
of that name actually lived, and had much to do 
with the founding of the sect of the Yezidis. 


Sheikh 'Adi ibn Musafir (1072-1160) was a Syrian 
saint and contemporary of the great hagiologist 
as-Sahrastani (1074-1133). He was a Sufi mystic 
and pantheist, and founded the al-'Adawiya Order 
of ascetics, being believed by his followers to be 
an incarnation (kulul) of the Deity. He has been 
adopted by the Yezidis as a god. Such action 
constitutes them Ghulat par excellence, though it 
is by no means unique. There seems, however, 
to be still some memory of Sheikh 'Adi as a man 
who died like an ordinary human being, since he 
has a burial-place in the chief temple, which every 
Yezidi must visit between 1 5th and 2Oth September, 
eat " Sheikh 'Adi dust," and possess some of it at 
death as a means of ensuring divine favour. 

The " tomb " may, nevertheless, be only a 
" shrine " set up by some of Sheikh 'Adi's 
followers, as it is often the case in the Near East 
that what are known as, and believed to be, the 
"tombs" of holy personages many existing .at 
various places dedicated to the same personage 
are really shrines in their honour, erected by 
some forgotten devotees. The shrine or tomb of 
Sheikh 'Adi is believed by the Yezidi priests or 
missionaries to have been built for Sheikh 'Adi 
himself in 960, i.e., two centuries before the date 


of his death! There is also a Nestorian story 
that a monk of al-Qaus, named 'Adi, who had 
quarrelled with his superior, personated the Syrian 
Sufi saint Sheikh 'Adi ibn Musafir, seized a 
monastery dedicated to Mar Addai, i.e., St. 
Thaddaeus, at Lalishi where the shrine to Sheikh 
'Adi now stands converted it to his own use and 
founded the Yezidi religion. 

There are three other gods in a minor position : 
Sheikh Shamsu'ddin, Fakhru'ddin and Sheikh 
Hasan al-Basri. Sheikh Shamsu'ddin is a god 
with a special chamber to himself in the great 
temple. He represents the Sun (Shams), and is 
the only supernatural being to whom a sacrifice is 
made by Yezidis. A white ox, when procurable 
for the purpose, is sacrificed annually and the flesh 
distributed to poor pilgrims, otherwise a white 
bull is seized at the annual festival and taken 
to a sectional chief (sheikh) for a reward. 
Here we seem to see a harking back to very 
ancient Zoroastrian custom the Yezidis occupy a 
Zoroastrians' land in which the fat of a white ox 
had much to do with the great ceremony of 
concoction of haoma as the Elixir of Life. 

The god Shamsu'ddin may, however, like 
Sheikh 'Adi, be, after all, merely a remembrance 


of some holy personage, said to have been named 
Sheikh Shams 'Ali Beg'al-Farisi (the Persian). 

Fakhru'ddin is another vague god, who has a 
shrine at the great Temple, and is variously said 
to have been the secretary of Sheikh 'Adi and the 
angel responsible conjointly with God (Khuda) 
for the creation of the universe. As a god he is 
called Kamush, and is then said to be Fakhru'ddin, 
a preacher at Herat (1150-1220), born at Kai in 
Tabaristan. It may also be that he is a recollec- 
tion of Fakhru'ddin ibn Qurqmas (1572-1635) the 
great Druse leader, who with his mother, Sitt 
Nasiba, created an immense sensation in these 
regions in his lifetime. One is tempted to 
conjecture here that Sitt Nafisa, already noted as 
the name of a sacred mulberry tree, arose out of 
the name of Fakhru'd din's mother. 

The great traditionist and early Sufi al-Hasan 
al-Basri (642-728), has much to do with the older 
Yezidi legend and will be dealt with later. He, 
too, appears as a god at the Sheikh 'Adi shrine. 



The Yezidis have two Evil Spirits, which are 
more or less mixed up Shaitan, i.e. Satan, or as 
he is called in English, the Devil, and Melak Ta'us, 
the Lord Peacock. Shaitan is, of course, a Muslim 
name, but in the Qur'an he is not the Lord of Hell. 
That being is Malik, as witnesses Chapter XLIII : 
" But the wicked shall remain for ever in the torment 
of Hell. ... And they shall call aloud, ' O Malik, 
intercede for us that the Lord may end us/ He 
shall answer, ' Verily, ye shall remain.' " Here the 
commentators say that by " Malik " Muhammad 
meant the principal angel in charge of Hell. This 
title of Malik may be of importance in connection 
with that of Melak (or Malik) Ta'us, who is rightly 
identified by the Yezidis with Shaitan, thus. The 
Muslims know the Biblical story of the temptation 
of Eve (Hawwa) by Shaitan, i.e., Malik, disguised 
as a serpent in Eden, and add that a peacock (tflus) 
was the intermediary between them. The serpent 
was punished by God (Allah), but the peacock 


escaped. Hence it is possible that the Yezidis 
have, now unconsciously, come to call Shaitan in 
memory of that tale by the name of Melak Ta'us, 
because the fear of Shaitan is so great among them 
that he is absolutely unmentionable; even words 
containing the sound or letters of his name are 
tabued and substitutes for them have to be used. 
It may also be useful to note here that a Muslim 
title of Shaitan is Maliku'l-Quwat, Lord of Power. 
The tabu of the name of Shaitan has been 
turned by the Yezidis to practical purpose for their 
own benefit. The reason given by them to the 
Turks for escaping military service and paying a 
fine instead was that " every Muslim is accustomed 
to say twelve times a day : ' Take refuge with Allah 
from Shaitan the Stoned/ If a Yezidi were to 
hear this from a comrade he would have either to 
kill him or commit suicide." This sounds childish, 
but if there is any truth in the tale, it shows that 
the Turkish officials recognized the power of their 
belief in the tabu of the name of Shaitan over the 
Yezidis. The expression " Shaitan the Stoned" is 
the Muslim Shaitan ar-Rajim, or ar-Rashim, and 
refers to the well-known legend of the stoning of 
the Devil by Abraham (Ibrahim) at Mina near 


Leaving, however, Melak Ta'us aside for the 
moment, it may be said that Shaitan is held by the 
Yezidis to be the author of all bad luck, and they 
revere him through fear. He must never be 
maligned or made the scapegoat of personal short- 
comings. He is, m reality, the chief of the Angelic 
Host, but is under a cloud for disobedience to the 
will of God (Allah). As a fallen angel he is not 
to be lightly treated, as he will one day be restored 
to his rightful place in Heaven by God (Khudl). 

In connection with the Yezidi beliefs in Shaitan, 
Melak Ta'us and Hell, there is a consideration 
which may be of great importance in the inquiry into 
the memories conveyed in the term Melak Ta'us. 
In modern Yezidi belief there is no Hell, as it was 
extinguished by the weeping of a diseased child, 
who cried into a yellow (as far) jar for seven years, 
and this was emptied over the fires of Hell and 
extinguished them. This child is variously named 
Abrik Shautha and Ibrik al-Asfar (the Yellow). A 
variant of the legend says it was the weeping of 
Shaitan during his seven thousand years of exile in 
Hell that extinguished the fires. With reference to 
these legends it has been suggested that Melak 
Ta'us is a memory of Ta'uz, said to be a form of 
the very ancient Babylonian hero-god Tammuz, and 


it is to be remembered that weeping for the terrible 
legendary sufferings in the seven forms of death to 
which he was subjected is a prominent feature in 
the ceremonies once celebrated in connection with 
Tammuz. There is a reference to them in the 
Bible, Ezekiel viii. 14: "Then he ('a likeness as 
the appearance of fire,' a vision) brought me to the 
door of the gate of the Lord's house which was 
towards the north, and behold, there sat women 
weeping for Tammuz." 

On the principle, then, that as the Devil is 
actively malevolent, and as God and the gods are 
passively benevolent, it is wise to bestow special 
care in propitiating the Devil, and as he can never 
be mentioned, all worship and propitiation must be 
bestowed on his representative, Melak Ta'us. That 
being therefore occupies so prominent a position 
in all Yezidi ceremonial that they have to be called 
Devil Worshippers. It is now necessary to discuss 
him at length. 

To return, then, to Melak Ta'us, the head of the 
Yezidi sect is called the Mir, also Emir (Amir) or 
Mira. He is a kind of Prince-Pope, and is alleged 
to be descended from the god Yezid. Yezidi 
legend says that the Mir's Master or Lord was 
Ta'us (Greek Taw?) the Peacock, a Good Spirit, 


and we again seem to hear an echo of Ta'uz, 
representing Tammuz ; but as the name of the Evil 
Spirit was tabued he came to be called Melak 
Ta'us, i.e., the Lord Peacock. Nevertheless the 
Yezidis seem now to understand by the term "the 
Peacock Angel." As the representative of Shaitan, 
Melak Ta'us has many appellations : the Tempter, 
the Prince of the Deyils, the Strong One, the Wicked 
One, the Enemy, the Hostile One, the Prince of 
Darkness. Both Christian and Muhammadan 
influences appear here, but it will be found later 
on that these titles are modified considerably in 
practical belief and do not help us to get at his 
real nature. 

As regards the term Ta'uSi Taw?, for peacock, 
it may be remarked that the bird and the term are 
not indigenous either in the land of the Yezidis or 
in Persia, yet they were known in Greece c. 425 
B.C., having been introduced from Persia. They 
must therefore have been known in Persia before 
that date, and seem to have been introduced from 
Southern India, to get being Tamil for a peacock. 
As regards Northern India, there has been found 
a coin of Aryamitra in Ayodhya, c. 72 B.C. with 
obverse a peacock and a palm-tree : Cambridge 
History of India, I, 527, 538 and Plate V. If 


the translation " peacock " in i Kings x. 82 and 
2 Chronicles ix. 21 is correct, then the bird was 
known in Palestine in the fifth century B.C. 

A very mixed Yezidi legend recorded by Mr. 
Empson accounts for the reading of Ta'iis as 
peacock. It still hints, however, at memories as 
to the legend of Ta'uz or Tammuz. By the will of 
God (Khuda) seven spirits rule the universe in 
turn. The first and foremost is Melak Ta'us, who 
is to reign ten thousand years and has reigned four 
thousand of them. His offering is seven sheep, 
which, by the way, is never made in practice. He 
is to be succeeded by Melak Isa (Jesus Christ) 
for ten thousand years, with one sheep for his 
offering. The advent of Isa, which has already 
taken place, was premature, and he did not die 
on the cross. This is also Muslim teaching, and a 
modern Ghaliya sect, the Ahmadias of the Panjab, 
have based a wild theory on it. The Qur'an says, 
Chapter IV : " They that have not believed . . . 
have said, ' Verily we have slain Christ Jesus, the 
son of Mary, the apostle of God. Yet they slew him 
not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by 
one in his likeness/ " The Yezidi explanation is 
that Melak Ta'us saved Christ by snatching him 
from the cross, and then he appeared to the Maries 


as a dmvesh, or Muslim ascetic (dervish), and told 
them what he had done. He then took a dead cock, 
restored it to life in their presence and informed 
them that he chose to be worshipped as the most 
beautiful of birds, the peacock. In true illiterate 
sectarian fashion the Yezidis have here assumed 
that all the world at all times has belonged to their 
sect. It may be remarked here, too, that the 
ordinary images of Melak Ta'us more nearly 
resemble a cock than any other bird. 

As might be expected, the actual position of 
Melak Ta'us in the Yezidi mind is vague, and the 
beliefs regarding him contradictory. He is and 
yet he is not a god, e.g., he is connected with the 
god Yezid in both a superior and an inferior degree, 
and yet he is an incarnation of Yezid, who is himself 
now held to be inferior as a god to Sheikh 'Adi. 
But he is a greater spirit than Isa (Jesus). At the 
same time his cult is apparently older than the cult 
of Sheikh 'Adi. Despite all this, Melak Ta'us, as 
the progenitor of the Yezidis he created them 
three hundred years after the coming of Adam is 
the god Yezid, half angel, half man. Further, he 
is habitually treated as a god, and offerings are 
thrown to him into a secret cleft in the rocks at 
Dair Asi in the Sinjar by way of propitiation, 


especially in warding off the Evil Eye, but no 
sacrifices are made to him. 

The power attributed to Melak Ta'us is, how- 
ever, immense. He was created Lord of the Earth 
by the decree of God (Khuda), but had certain 
limits placed on his power, though as regards the 
celestial regions there is no limit to it. This power 
is shown in various ways, e.g., Yezidis never pray, 
as prayer is superfluous, because Melak Ta'us is 
sufficiently powerful to save them without prayer. 
So also blue clothing is tabued, because it is used 
by Muslims as a protection against the Evil Eye, 
and owing to the power of Melak Ta'us no such 
protection is necessary to believers in him. That is 
one explanation. Another is that the objection to 
blue clothing is " its observed character as the 
colour of heaven," but this seems a little doubtful. 

The legends about Melak Ta'us exhibit a strong 
Muslim leaning, just as does some of the ritual 
concerning him. Thus, at the Day of Judgment, 
all the followers of Melak Ta'us will be carried 
to Heaven on a tray. Also he is said to have 
impersonated Sheikh 'Adi on a pilgrimage (kajf) to 
Mecca and then ascended to Heaven, and when 
Sheikh 'Adi was about to be executed as an impostor 
in consequence, Melak Ta'us saved him and ordered 


him to be henceforth honoured as a saint. Here 
Melak Ta'us assumes a distinctly superior position 
to Sheikh 'Adi. 

A very important part is played in Yezidi ritual 
by the sanjaq, originally a standard and then an 
image of a peacock (sanjdq, plural sandjiq, means 
properly a symbol). One legend makes the peacock 
standard (sanjdq) of the Yezidis to have been given 
by Sulaiman (Solomon) to their " first king," Sabur I 
(224-271), for the Yezidis claim to have had a royal 
house (Mairi) from 224 to 379. We have here a 
confused recollection of the great Sasanian monarch, 
Shapur I (241-273) (the conqueror of the Roman 
Emperor Valerian at Edessa in 260), under whom 
rose the Manichaeans in 242. Those were days of 
violent religious struggle, for under Shapur's pre- 
decessor, Ardeshir (212-241), the compilation of ths 
Pahlavi Avesta (Zoroastrian) was continued, while 
Mithraism began to succeed a decadent Zoroastrian- 
ism and to dominate it by the time of Shapur II 
(310-379). The Mobeds (Great Magi) also began 
to have power, while there was constant conflict 
with Christianity. The mythical nature of the 
Yezidi claim to royalty can be thus demonstrated. 
They say that their royal house ruled from 224 to 
379, and that Sabur I reigned from 224 to 272, and 


Sabur II from 309 to 379. But the early Sasanians 
reigned from 212 to 379, thus: Ardeshir 212-241, 
Shapur I 241-273, Bahrain I 273-276, others till 
Shapur II, another very famous ruler, from 310 
to 379. The dates for the two dynasties (Yezidi 
and Sasanian) are too close, and there can be no 
doubt that the Yezidi "royal house" is but an 
echo of that of the great Sasanian Emperors of 

But however all this may be, the Peacock 
Standard is said to have been made by the " seven 
gods," of whom more hereafter, and when the god 
Yezid was born, he received it " with great rever- 
ence and bestowed it on the Yezidis." This means 
that the Yezidis became the Men of the Peacock 
Standard in a manner that would seem natural to 
the surrounding Turks : witness the Akkuyunlii 
(White Sheep Standard) and the Qarakuyunlii 
(Black Sheep Standard) Turks, once so famous in 
Western Asian history. There is also a tale of a 
peacock flag to Melak Ta'us, which, when put into 
holy " Sheikh 'Adi " water, had curative power. 
Here we have a reason for the cult. 

The sanjaq standard has apparently degener- 
ated into concrete images of Melak Ta'us, divided 
into two categories, the chief at the headquarters 


of the sect and the minor called Ta'us-kushi, which 
are carried about by Qauwals, chanters or priest- 
missionaries (d(ii} when travelling through the 
villages to raise funds. In their ordinary condi- 
tion the sanjaq images are held to be only symbols 
of Melak Ta'us, but they become active on being 
placed in a dish of water by a Qauwal, who then 
goes into a trance and, in world-wide fashion, 
causes Melak Ta'us to enter the sanjaq image 
through the water. The image then becomes an 
oracle, of which the Qauwal is the spokesman. 

The Muhammadan nature of the whole legend 
of Melak Ta'us comes out in the dedication of 
the images. Five of them, alleged to have been 
taken by the Turks, were dedicated as follows : to 
Hadrat (Saint) Da'ud (David), Sheikh Shamsu'ddin 
(the Sun), Yezid I ibn Mu'awiya (the Caliph) 
(assumed eponym of the sect), Sheikh 'Adi (the 
god-saint), and Sheikh Hasan al-Basri (642-728), 
an important personage in Yezidi legend. The 
only new name here is Da'ud (David), well-known 
in Islam and taken over by the Yezidis as a holy 
personage with a host of other Biblical heroes, and 
it will be perceived that this dedication argues that 
the so-called "deities" of the Yezidis at Sheikh 
'Adi's shrine should properly be regarded as 


sandjiq, i.e., symbols of the Deity, or shall we say 
as symbols deified? 


In examining Yezidi legends and religious tales, 
it will be found that they refer to traditions of 
mixed origin Muhammadan, mixed Christian and 
Muhammadan, Nestorian Christian, Zoroastrian, 
Kurd, Sabaean, Mesopotamian- Syrian, Persian 
(Yezd), Assyrian and Aboriginal Animistic. Like 
many another population in remote places, the 
Yezidis are thoroughly eclectic. 

The Muhammadan Tradition 

Much that has been already said points to the 
overwhelming influence of Islam on the religious 
ideas of the Yezidis. They are really Shi'a Ghulat, 
but several points have not yet been touched on. 
It must be remembered, however, that Islam has 
nevertheless not permeated deeply: e.g., circum- 
cision is by no means universal, and Wednesday, 



not the Muslim Friday, is the weekly holiday, 
though both Wednesday and Friday are holy days, 
but not to the exclusion of work. The Yezidi 
orientation (qibla) is towards the Pole Star (Qutb), 
and not towards Mecca. 

A legend that accounts for the title of Yezidi 
is as follows: Some of the Jahilias, i.e., pagan 
Arabs, were led by the 'Umayid Caliph Yezid ibn 
Mu'awiya, who had a Christian mother. He had 
heard of one, Sheikh 'Adi; went to see him, learnt 
his religion, and taught it to his followers. This 
means that a most important person, the 'Umayid 
Caliph Yezid I, adopted the religion of Sheikh 'Adi 
and founded the sect of the Yezidis. There is a 
hopeless anachronism here, as Yezid I lived in the 
seventh century (Caliph 680-683) and Sheikh 'Adi 
in parts of the eleventh and twelfth. There is, 
moreover, nothing otherwise to show that Yezid I 
was ever heterodox or ever founded a sect, but 
the acts attributed to him the murder of Husain 
ibn 'Ali, the sack of Medina, and the killing of 
eighty Ashab or Companions of Muhammad were 
enough to ensure the persistent hostility of the 
Shi'as and to account for the persecution on the 
part of surrounding Shi'as of all Yezid's followers, 
as the Yezidis set up to be. Indeed, in Shi'a eyes 


the name of Yezid the Caliph has become so hateful 
as to be in Persian a synonym for all that is 
execrable, and to crown this detestation, Yezid was 
also the name of an early arch-heretic. In addition 
to all this, in making out the 'Umayid Caliph Yezid 
ibn Mu'awiya to be the son of Abu Sufian, the 
Yezidis are mixing up two separate personages, 
for, as above remarked, Yezid ibn Mu'awiya was 
Caliph (Khalifa) from 680 to 683, whereas Yezid 
ibn Abi Sufian was an important official who died 
in the plague epidemic which afflicted the Saracen 
Army in Syria in 639. 

.There is also a wild Yezidi tale of origin which 
is extremely Muhammadan in form, though it 
begins in a manner familiar to students of Hindu 
cosmogony and has some Zoroastrian affinities. 
There were seventy-two Adams of ten thousand 
years each, with intervals of worldly cessation of 
ten thousand years between them. The Yezidis 
are sprung from the last of these Adams. It seems 
hard to believe that this has not been taught by 
someone who knew or had heard tales of Hindu 
cosmogony. But the Yezidi tale goes on to explain 
about Huriya, a rival to Eve (Hawwa). Huriya 
was introduced from Heaven by a cavalier named 
Jinnis, and subsequently a quarrel between Adam 


and Eve was settled by the Angel Gabriel (Jabra'il), 
who arranged that Adam should produce a son, 
Shahid Jayar. Eve then bore Cain and Abel to 
Shem. Here, to give the Arabic forms, we find 
Huri, Jinn, Hawwa, Adam, Jabra'11, Shahid, 
Habil, Kabll, Sam; all familiar words and names 
in Islamic legend from the Qur'an onwards. 

It is, further, not necessary to go outside Islam 
to account for the prominence given to the black 
serpent carved on the doorway of the shrine of 
Sheikh 'Adi and kissed by all pilgrims. Mr. 
Empson gives the legend thus : " They believe that 
there were two floods the first seven thousand 
years ago and that as the waters of the second, or 
Noah's (Nuh), flood rose and the ark floated, it 
came to Mount Sinjar (if Ararat may be taken to be 
a form of al-arat, it means merely a hillock), where 
it ran aground and was pierced by a rock. The 
serpent thereupon twisted itself into a cake and 
stopped the hole, and the ark mov^ed on." There 
is an analogous tale in Arab legend connected with 
the Ka'ba at Mecca. Ibrahim (Abraham) dug a 
hole known to pilgrims of the Hajj as al-Akhsaf 
in the Ka'ba for a treasury, which was frequently 
plundered by the Jurhum Arabs, now long non- 
existent. In consequence, a serpent, commanded 


by God (Allah), took up its abode in the hole and 
guarded the treasury. Later on it opposed the 
renovation of the Ka'ba by the Quraishi, and God 
sent a bird, which carried off the serpent. 

In this connection it may be remarked that 
Mr. Empson quotes Wetnhiyun as a name for the 
Yezidis. The term seems to represent Watnu'l- 
Haiyun, the Land of the Serpents, but Mr. Empson 
says the belief is that the name Wetnhiyun was 
changed to Yezidi as the worship of the Good 
Spirit waned and that of the Evil Spirit gained 
ground. He therefore refers the belief to a form 
of Dualism. 

The Yezidis have an angelology which is 
Muhammadan in type; even Melak Ta'us is as 
much an angel as a god. The archangels are 
almost purely those of Islam: e.g., Jabra'il, the 
interpreter; Mikha'il, the rain-bringer; Azra'il, the 
angel of death; Didra'il; Rafa'il; Shemka'il; 
Azazil, the Devil masquerading as Azrafil; while 
Izrafil, who is the same personage in Islam as the 
last, is the trumpeter at the Day of Judgment; 
Nakir (Munkir) and Nukir (Nakir) are the 
exajniners of souls on the death of the body. In 
this last case the Yezidis have adopted the vulgar 
Nakir for Munkir. Some of the archangels are 


held to be incarnated (hulul) in the more prominent 
Yezidi sheikhs or leaders: e.g., Mikhail (Michael) 
as Sheikh Abubakr; Azra'il as Sheikh Salju'ddln; 
Didra'il as Hasan al-Basri; Shemka'il as Sheikh 
Nasru'ddin; Israfil as Sheikh Shamsu'ddin. Sheikh 
Shamsu'ddin is also occasionally confused with the 
Jewish and Christian Messiah. Of the above, 
Abubakr, the first Caliph and Companion of 
Muhammad, and his almost contemporary al-Hasan 
ibn Abi'l-Hasan al-Basri, may be taken to be 
legendary heroes of the Yezidis. It may be noted, 
too, that the latter in his lifetime was an outspoken 
opponent of Yezid I, the eponymous hero of the 
Yezidis and a developer of Sufism, which facts are 
of interest in the present connection. 

In the midst of all this Islamism, there is a 
vague cosmogonic legend with a Zoroastrian tinge 
in it as regards the angels. God (Khuda) created 
the universe and put seven angels in charge of it, 
each for a thousand years, of whom somehow Melak 
Ta'us is at present in charge. He had a great 
predecessor, Lasifarus, who spoke Kurdish and 
confirmed the Yezidis' saints in their position. 
Here is another instance of admixture of Islam 
and Zoroastrianism. Fasting also is observed in 
Muslim fashion by the Yezidi priests, but is, and 


also is not, observed by the public, the feeling on 
the subject being very vague. Here we seem to 
see a traditional conflict between Muslim ideas 
strongly for fasting and the Zoroastrian idea that 
it is a foolish custom. It is possible also that 
Lasifarus has a Christian origin. Lucifer, the 
light-bearer, is used by Isaiah in the Bible for the 
King of Babylon : " How art thou fallen from 
Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning; how art 
thou cast down to the ground, which didst weaken 
the nations " (xiv. 1 2). The early Christians held 
that the words ascribed to Christ in Luke x. 18 
(cf. also Revelations ix. i) : "I beheld Satan as 
lightning fall from heaven," referred to the Iqfext in 
Isaiah, and so in their theology Lucifer came to be 
regarded as a synonym of Satan. 

The Mixed Christian and Muhammadan 


The Yezidis believe in two floods, including 
that in Hebraic legend in the cosmogony developed 
in Genesis, and in other events in the Old Testa- 
ment of the Bible, and partly in the New Testa- 
ment and the Qur'an. They have for minor 


prophets, Muhammad, Abraham, Noah and so on 
through a number of names familiar to Jews, 
Christians and Muhammadans. Isa, Jesus Christ, 
is also a minor prophet, and they believe in his 
advent, and also in that of the twelfth Imam of 
the Shi'as the Mahdi, whom they call Sheikh 
Medi. God (Allah) has three thousand and three 
names, in place of the ninety-nine given by the 
Muhammadans. Here we have an interesting 
instance of the kind of megalomania common in 
Indian religious philosophy, where the Vaishnava 
division of the Hindus adopted a theory of ten 
avatar as or incarnations of their patron god Vishnu, 
gave him one hundred and four holy names, and 
thereby made their philosophy popular and power- 
ful, whereupon their rivals of the Shaiva division 
created a greater number of avataras of their patron 
god Shiva and gave him one hundred and eight 
holy names. 

The Yezidis have, too, an expiatory period 
before entering Heaven, just as there is al-Barsakh 
in Islam and purgatory among some Christians. 
Their whole eschatology is, however, vague and of 
a mixed character. So also are their festivals : 
Christmas Day, Christian; Bahrain, Muhammadan.; 
the 'Id (Feast) of Elijah, Hebraic. 


The Nestorian Christian Tradition 

This tradition runs generally thus: the chief 
Yezidi shrine, which bears traces of Christian 
architecture, was originally a Nestorian monastery. 
The saint Sheikh 'Adi entered it, took possession, 
altered the building to suit his teaching, and was 
buried there. Also, the Yezidis are locally said to 
have been dasini, impure, i.e., cast out from the 
Nestorian diocese, which disappeared when they 
arose, possess a Syriac library kept hidden away, 
and name villages with Syriac names. They say, 
too, that Sheikh 'Adi's shrine was built by Christian 
workmen, but they hold that the valley which con- 
tains it was a holy place long before Christianity 
or Yezidism existed. Nevertheless, the name 
Dasini, Dasni, is also said to be a Syriac form, 
Dasnaye (Arabic, Dasin, plural, Dawasin), for a 
name given by the Yezidis to themselves as a 
Kurdish tribe, and so is a tribal and not a 
religious name. 

Among Yezidi legends is one that the reign of 
Melak Isa (Jesus Christ) has not yet begun, and that 


he will reign after Melak Ta'us, for, as has been 
already observed, his first advent was premature. 
The Yezidis allot an inferior divinity to Isa, respect 
the Sign of the Cross, adopt baptism and observe 
Christmas Day; while some of them, the Halitiya 
Yezidis of Diarbekr (Asia Minor) even observe the 
Eucharist. The hymns sung at a great festival, 
1 5th to 2Oth April, are first in honour of Sheikh 'Adi 
and then in honour of Isa. Finally, brides pay 
reverence to any Christian church they pass on the 
way to the bridegroom's house, but this may be 
because Christian churches are reverenced by 
everyone in Kurdistan as possessed with healing 
properties. There is an odd idea as to the name 
of Gurgis (Jirjis), i.e., St. George. It is highly 
objected to as a name for children and is never 
given, but no explanation of this seems to be forth- 
coming, though it is to be observed that in the Near 
East Muslim boys born on St. George's Day, 23rd 
April, are named, not Jirjis, but Khidrelles, after 
two holy personages, Khidr and Ilyas (Elias), 
confounded by the people with St. George. 


The Zoroastrian Tradition 

Before considering this subject it should be 
borne in mind that Zoroastrianism had undergone 
numerous and sometimes almost incompatible 
changes before Yezidism came into existence. 
There are, however, several points in which Yezidi 
ideas approach the old Zoroastrian. Thus, there 
is a tradition that the term Yezidi represents 
Yazdan, the Good Spirit, as opposed to Ahriman, 
the Evil Spirit. It may be noted, too, here that 
it has been said that among the Zoroastrian Parsees 
of India Yezid Farfar is the Evil Spirit. In 
modern Persian both Yazd and Yazdan are used 
as terms for God, and Yazd Farfar would mean 
philologically God the Creator, or God the Des- 
troyer, according to the sense of the uncertain 
Arabo-Persian term Farfar in the mind of the 
speaker or writer. Other reminiscences of Zoro- 
astrianism among the Yezidis are the clear persist- 
ence among them of Dualist principles, as shown 
in the rival Spirits of Good and Evil with equal 
powers, and in the worship of Fire, besides others 
already noticed. It may be mentioned also that, 


like the Zoroastrian Parsees, the Yezidis do not 
admit converts from other religions, but this 
exclusiveness was far from being an attribute of 
the older Zoroastrianism, which was a vigorous 
missionary religion. Among the later Zoroastrians 
generally, ritualism, especially that connected with 
magic, became all powerful, and it is to be observed 
that some of the Yezidi village sheikhs or head men 
claim magic powers. E.g., the Sheikh of Giranjak 
can cast spells, and the descendants at Baiban of 
the Sheikh of Ruhsit, a ruined village, are regarded 
as snake-charmers, a property they can transfer to 
others by merely spitting at them. Then again the 
Zoroastrian objection to the burial of corpses, 
because their presence in the earth would pollute 
it, seems to survive in the Yezidi custom of not 
allowing earth to touch the corpse as it is laid in 
the grave for Munkir (Nakir) and Nakir to descend 
from Heaven to examine it. 

There is another interesting point in this 
connection which seems to have its origin in the 
old Zoroastrianism. Wood is collected in large 
quantities at the shrine of Sheikh 'Adi to burn at 
the annual sacrifice of a sacred white bull to the 
Sun-god Shamsu'ddin. There is also, as has 
been already noticed, a ceremony of the capture of 


a white bull at certain festivals. A white sheet 
(kifri) is used to wrap the corpse at funerals, a 
widow must wear white clothing, and white as a 
colour is held in much esteem. Now, in the brew- 
ing of the Zoroastrian Elixir of Immortality 
(kaomd), the fat of a white ox and the white sap 
of the Horn-tree played a great part. In fact, 
the ingredients had to be white, as is shown in the 
Dadistani Dinik, dated about 875. 

The Native Kurd Tradition 

This tradition tells us that Yezidi, as a name, 
represents the Kurdish 'Azed, an ancient name of 
God, degenerated to Yazed, when given to the 
Devil. But the tradition is vague and might 
equally well refer to an important tribe of the 
Arabs, the Azd, which played a great part in 
Mesopotamia and Khurasan, as well as in Arabia 
itself, as far back as the days of Mu'awiya and 
Yezid I in the seventh century. In pre-Muham- 
madan times the Azd were worshippers of idols, 
and joined Muhammad slowly, in fact, not fully 
till compelled to do so by Abubakr. This last 


view, however, sets aside the fact that the Yezidis 
are essentially a tribe of Kurdistan. 

The Sabcean Tradition 

Yezid ibn Abi Anisa, a heterodox Sabsean 
leader, is believed by some, without much reason, 
to have been the founder of the Yezidis, who were 
looked on as his as Mb (followers, companions). 
This tradition is, however, more than doubtful, as 
that great authority Ibn-Hazm of Cordova (994- 
1027) calls the leader in question Zaid ibn 'Ubaissa, 
but it may be noted that Ibn-Hazm's father, who 
was a high official, claimed descent (perhaps 
apocryphally) from a Persian, Yezid ibn Abi 
Sufian. Historically, Yezid ibn Abi Anisa 
founded a sect called Yezidiyas, which does 
not appear to have been in any way connected 
with the Yezidis. But he was a Khariji, who 
were, if anything, orthodox puritan Muhammadans, 
as are their modern representatives the Ibadiyas 
(Abadiyas). The only thing that seems to give 
colour to the idea that he could have been the 
founder of the Yezidis is a statement that " God 


will send a new Qur'an to a prophet among the 
Persians, and he will found a new religion for 
them, divine in the same sense as Judaism, 
Christianity and Islam, which will be no other 
than that of the Sabi'un mentioned in the Qur'an." 
Here, however, it is clear that the Mandaeans or 
Christians of St. John the Baptist are referred to, 
and they were very far Indeed from being at one 
with the Yezidis. 

Nevertheless Sabaean tenets may have had much 
to do with the religion of the Yezidis. As-Sabi'a, 
Sabaean, is a name for two distinct sects: (i) the 
Mandseans or Judaeo-Christians of Mesopotamia, 
who were Baptists and known as Christians of St. 
John the Baptist; (2) the Sabaeans of Harran 
(Carrhce), who were Ghulat or Extremists, and 
largely pagan, but for political reasons they, too, 
adopted baptism, and. they had an important 
literature in Syriac. The as-Sabi'un of the 
Qur'an were Mandaeans, but it is the creed of the 
Sabaeans of Harran that might well have been 
absorbed, in part at any rate, by the Yezidis, 
among whom baptism is a prominent rite. Indeed, 
it is worth while to state here Carra de Vaux's 
estimate of this sect by way of illustrating the 
Yezidi beliefs generally, especially as the Sabaeans 


of Harran disappeared about 1033 the period of 
Sheikh 'Adi when the Egyptian 'Alids took from 
them their last temple, that of the Moon at Harran. 
" As-Sahrastani classes them among thos'e 
who admit spiritual substances (ar-rukdmyun), 
especially the great astral spirits. They recognize 
as their first teachers two philosopher prophets, 
'Adhimun (Agathodaemon = the Good Spirit) and 
Hermes, who have been identified with Seth and 
Idris respectively. Orpheus was also one of the 
prophets. They believe in a creator of the world, 
wise, holy, not produced and of inaccessible 
majesty, who is reached through the intermediary 
of the spirits. The latter are pure and holy in 
substance, in act and state; as regards their 
nature, they have nothing corporeal, neither 
physical faculties, nor movements in place, nor 
changes in time. They are our masters, our gods, 
our intercessors with the sovereign Lord. By 
purifying the soul and chastising the passions one 
enters into relations with them. As to their 
activities, they produce, renew, and change things 
from state to state; they cause the force of the 
divine majesty to flow down to the lower beings 
and lead each of them from the beginning to his 
perfection. Among them are the administrators of 


the seven planets, which are like their temples. 
Each spirit has a temple. Each temple has a 
sphere, and the spirit is to his temple as the soul 
is to the body. ... Their condition is very 
spiritual and analogous to that of the angels. . . . 
The shape of the temples, the number of the 
degrees, the colour of the ornaments, the material 
of the idols and the nature of the sacrifices varied 
with the planets, and this is interesting for the 
history of the liturgy. . . . All the Sabaeans had 
three prayers (which the Yezidis have not). They 
purified themselves by ablution after contact with 
a corpse, forbade the flesh of swine, dogs, birds 
with talons, and pigeons. They did not have 
circumcision, allowed divorce only by decree of 
the judge, and forbade bigamy." 

The Meso-potamian-Syrian Tradition 

There is a Yezidi tradition of origin referring 
th'em to Basra, then by emigration to Syria, and 
thence to their present site, Jebel Sinjar or Bird 
Hill. If any reliance could be placed on this story 
it would account for much of their faith a mixture 
of Animism, Islam and Christianity. 


The Persian (Yezd) Tradition 

Persian persecution of the Yezidis, through 
Shi'a animosity, continued for centuries and 
brought about emigration towards Kurdistan. 
Traditionally the migration took place from Yezd 
and Seistan, where Zoroastrianism flourished, and 
the Zoroastrians (Magians) brought items of their 
faith with them Dualism, fire-worship. Also some 
of the pagans tree and spirit (" Devil ") wor- 
shippers from Seistan brought " Devil Worship " 
with them to avoid persecution of themselves. If, 
however, Yezd gave a name to such emigrants it 
would have been Yezdi, and it is difficult to derive 
Yezidi from Yezd. 

The Assyrian Tradition 

This is really a European's theory. The 
Yezidis are hairy, and their monuments depict 
them with beards, and they dwell on the site of 
the old Assyrian Empire. From this an Assyrian 


origin has been predicated. This may be so 
physically in part, but there is nothing to show 
that they have retained anything of the ancient 
Assyrian religion that is not common to all 

The Aboriginal Animistic Tradition 

Apart from those above discussed several of the 
Yezidi stories of origin are of no value to 
research, as they are merely the result of that 
desire to magnify social position so observable 
in Oriental genealogical statements. Such tales 
abound in India, and are to be found there among 
all the people of whatever race. Of such a 
nature is the Yezidi story, for example, of the great 
'Umayid Mu'awiya marrying an old woman of 
eighty, who miraculously became twenty-five and 
gave birth to the god Yezid, the Caliph Yezid I 
being the actual son of Mu'awiya. 

Of Yezidi customs, however, which are distinctly 
animistic may be quoted their method of taking an 
oath. A magic circle, dedicated to Melak Ta'us, 
is drawn round the swearer, and the fear of Melak 
Ta'us is said to make him tell the truth. Such an 


animistic custom in v.arious forms is frequently 
observed in India. 

Then again, the Yezidi custom of burying 
corpses on the right side, with the head to the 
south, is common among Hindus in India and is 
universal in Kashmir. 

Also red rags are fixed to the doorway of 
Sheikh 'Adi's shrine, and red flowers are gathered 
at the New Year and at baptisms. It is very 
common among Hindus to use red as a magic 
or sacred colour, the explanations varying very 
widely; substitution for human, or blood, sacrifice 
being a common, but by no means universal, 
explanation for this wide-spread animistic practice. 
It may be noted, however, that red flowers are 
common in the neighbourhood of Sheikh 'Adi's 
shrine, and so the colour may have really no 

Among animistic customs is that of lighting 
lamps at dusk in the valley in which the shrine of 
Sheikh 'Adi is situated whenever festivals are held. 
About three hundred and fifty are lighted at the 
principal festival, but the oil is not replenished. 
Here we have an animistic tradition of much 
interest, as, with the introduction by Muslims of 
the cult of al-Khizr or al-Khidr into India 


between 700 and 900, there came presumably 
from Persia or Mesopotamia the pretty and 
universal custom of lighting toy boats holding 
little oil lamps by the thousand at festivals in 
al-Khizr's honour and setting them afloat on 
rivers and sheets of water. 



The Yezidis believe that if a man at death has 
been a good man, his soul is reborn in Heaven, 
otherwise it passes into an animal. The celebrated 
Persian Sufi wool-carder of the ninth century 
(858-922), Mansur al-Hallaj, who eventually 
became a great mystic teacher and martyr, is 
held responsible for the Yezidi doctrine of 
metempsychosis (tandsukh) thus. His sister was 
filling her jar by the Tigris when the soul of her 
brother, after his decapitation under the Caliph 
al-Mustadir at Baghdad, came floating along and 
entered the jar. After drinking the water she 


became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who, 
it may be presumed, was the founder of the 
Hallajiya sect. It was, however, founded in 
reality by quite other people. Another superstition 
connected with al-Hallaj is that when his head was 
thrown into the water, it gurgled, and so drinking 
vessels with narrow mouths must never be used. 
Al-Hallaj's remains were, however, burnt. In 
these legends we have presented to us a world- 
wide story of the river-borne hero instances of 
which are quite common in India combined with 
that of metempsychosis. It must be mentioned 


here that Miss Gertrude Bell thought that Sheikh 
'Adi's teaching was in accordance with that of 
Mansur al-Hallaj, who suffered martyrdom for 
asserting the permeation of all created things by 
the Deity with the phrase, " I am God (Allah)." 



Every Yezidi must purify his body and clothes 
in water provided for the purpose at some 
distance from the Sheikh 'Adi shrine before enter- 
ing the valley in which it is situated. The 
ceremony purifying the body in pure water or in 
a specially compounded liquor is very ancient 
indeed, and goes back to the beginnings of all 
known religions. The doer of uncertain things 
became " unclean " until he was ceremonially 
purified, an idea expanded into the natural 
uncleanliness of the human body and the consequent 
necessity for purification before entering the sacred 
presence of the Deity. Greeks, Romans, Hindus, 
Jews and every other ancient people believed in 
this necessity. The situation as they saw it is 
made clear on a reference to Numbers xix. 17, 19: 
" And for an unclean person they shall take also 
of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for 
sin and running water shall be put thereto in a 
vessel. [Here is inserted a reference to a special 
compound used for purifying.] And the clean 


person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third 
day and on the seventh day. And on the seventh 
day he shall purify himself and wash his clothes 
and bathe himself in water and shall be clean at 


The spring at Sheikh 'Adi's shrine Sheikh 
'Adi water is believed to originate in the sacred 
well of Zemzem at Mecca, and is worshipped by 
the Yezidis. Zemzem, as a name, is also at times 
applied to Sheikh 'Adi's well itself. Running 
water generally is greatly reverenced along with 
the trees in its neighbourhood. There are also 
other springs that are worshipped, e.g., at 
Ba Sheikha and at Ba'zani dedicated to Sheikh 


Mr. Empson writes that the Yezidi is far from 
being uncharitable, and that it is computed that he 
spends on an average a quarter of his income in 
fees, doles, and alms connected with the shrines. 
A large portion of these goes to his priests and 



holy men. Long ago I pointed out that the 
difficulty in getting Hindus to subscribe to what 
Europeans call public charities is due, not to 
natural niggardliness, but to the fact that practically 
all their spare cash and funds go to religious 
" charities " of a domestic nature, which are to 
them obligatory. As the Yezidis have no custom 
of prayer, their actual worship consists of hymns 
sung by Qauwals or priests and the religious 
rites at pilgrimages and festivals. It is on these 
occasions, and on the many others at which the 
priestly class which, like the old Zoroastrian 
Magi, is really a caste officiates, that their funds 
spent in " charity "disappear. 

The Yezidi priesthood is in four Orders, the 
two highest of which are hereditary, the office 
descending in the female as well as in the male 

(1) The High Priest is called Ikhti'ar-i-Mar- 
gahi, and is variously said to be a descendant of 
al-Hasan al-Basrl or of Sheikh 'Adi. He can 
issue fatwas or religious decrees, and can excom- 
municate. His assistants are the Sheikhs, who are 
not hereditary. 

(2) The Pirs (saints) are much revered. They 
make the dust of Sheikh 'Adi's shrine into balls of 


clay, which are sold as sacred mementoes ol a visit 
to the shrine, much as similar objects were of old 
sold at Buddhist shrines in India and are still sold 
to prove a visit to a Hindu shrine. The Pirs are 
hereditary priests and are credited with power to 
cure sickness and insanity. 

(3) The next two Orders are, strictly speaking, 
not in the priestly caste, but are really rather 
missionaries (da'is) and servants of shrines. The 
Qauwals (chanters, orators) are young singers and 
musicians used as missionaries for collecting funds 
for Melak Ta'us. They also maintain the precepts 
in the Yezidi Books among the people. A curious 
power attributed to them is the purification of clothes 
lent them to wear. This last seems to be a relic 
of the idea of purification by water. 

(4) The Faqirs (monks) or Mullas (priests) are 
also called Qarabashis (black-beards) and Farrash 
(shrine-sweepers, sacristans). They are servants 
and shrine guardians, but often also mere wan- 
derers. These only marry within their Order, and 
are headed by a Kak (Persian, master, teacher). 
There are also unmarried servants of Sheikh 'Adi's 
shrine, both male and female, forming a sub-order 
of Faqirs, called respectively, Shawash, who are in 
charge of the tombs, Kabana, unmarried abbesses 


in charge of the nuns of Sheikh 'Adi, and Fuqraiya 
(diminutive of Faqir), unmarried attendant sisters. 

Besides the priestly Orders there is a special 
class of holy personages called Kochaks, or Kujaks. 
They are nomadic and usually hereditary seers, 
mediums and miracle-workers. They are not 
circumcised, and marry only within their class, 
which is really agricultural. 

The priestly Orders hajre their own saints 
whom they venerate, named Sheikh 'Adi, Yezid, 
Muhammad Rashan and Sheikh Mand. This 
seems to show that Sheikh 'Adi and Yezid were 
saints before they became promoted to be gods. 
In this category also is Ishaq (Isaac), who is a 
hereditary priest in Heaven and the rain-bringer. 

The Yezidi hereditary hierarchy seems to be 
run on the following lines. There is a head of 
the whole tribe, called the Mir Hajj, the Prince of 
the Pilgrimage, and known also as the Mir, Amir 
or Mira. His is the chief family, and after that 
there come five families of Sheikhs, political as 
well as sacerdotal chiefs. 



Though the Yezidis have long been persecuted 
by the surrounding Muslims as being "without a 
Book," they are, in their own. estimation, Ahlu'l- 
Kitab (People with a Book), because they have 
now " Books " in a secret kind of way, the antiquity 
of which has, however, been doubted. 

(1) The Black Book, Mashafu'r-Rds y attributed 
to al-Hasan al-Basri in 1342, is a self -contradictory 
jumble, containing a cosmogony attributing the 
Creation to the Angel Fakhru'ddin, who apparently 
had some of the powers of God (Khuda). It states 
also that Sheikh 'Adi came from Syria to Lalishi, 
the country round his shrine, and has a long list 
of forbidden articles (tabus) arising out of the 
general Yezidi beliefs. 

(2) The Book of Enlightenment and Revela- 
tion is attributed to Sheikh Fakhru'ddin, Secretary 
to Sheikh 'Adi in 1162, and is composed in honour 
of Melak Ta'us, connecting him with the Sun, the 
Moon and the Seven Angels or gods. This looks 
as if it had a Sabaean (of Harran) origin, but 


if, as already noticed, this Fakhru'ddin is to be 
held to be the hero now worshipped at the chief 
Yezidi shrine as Kamush and representative of 
Fakhru'ddin of Kai in Tabaristan (1150-1220) there 
is no anachronism. He may, however, be a reminis- 
cence of Fakhru'ddin (1572-1635), the celebrated 
leader (Emir) of the Druses, a Ghaliya who 
believed in metempsychosis (tanasukk). If this 
be correct, it may be remarked that the belief of 
the Druses is a mixture of Islam and Syrian (or 
Nestorian) (Christianity. 

(3) The Poem of Sheikh 'Adi is a rhapsody in 
his own praise. It expressly states that he is the 
representative of the Deity to the Yezidis. He 
calls himself 'Adi ibn Musafir as-Shami (the 


Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. 1839. Vol. 


^Nineveh and its Remains. 1849. Vol. I. A. H. LAYARD. 
*Nestorians and their Rituals. 1852. Vol. I. G. P. 


* Nineveh and Babylon. 1853. A. H. LAYARD. 
Anthropos. 1911. Vol. VI. A. MARIE. 
The Golden Bough. 1911. Vol. IV. J. G. FRAZER. 
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 1911. 


t To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise. 1912. 
~ E. B. SOANE. 
The Cradle of Mankind. 1914. W. A. and E. T. A. 

Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1916. Vol. II. 


Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies. 1917. Vol. II. 
Part II. " Account of Religion of Yezidi Kurds." 

Anthropos. 1918. Pp. 558-574. A. DIRR. 
Devil Worship. 1919. I. JOSEPH. 
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1921. A. MINGANA. 

Secret Sects of Syria and the Lebanon. 1922. B. H. 

Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies. 1922. Vol. II. 
Part II. " The Religion of the Kurds." G. R. 



Zoroaster, the Great Teacher. 1923. B. H. SPRINGETT. 
By Tigris and Euphrates. 1923. E. S. STEVENS. 
Amurath to Amurath. 1924. G. L. BELL. 
The Heart of the Middle East. 1925. R. COKE. 
Mosul and its Minorities. 1925. H. C. LUKE. 
Thro' the Gates of Memory: From the Bosphorus to 
Baghdad. 1925. B. CUNLIFFE-OWEN. 



ABADIYA (sect), 73, 206 

Abdu'1-Ahad Effendi, 116 

Abdu'l-Kadir, Sheikh, 106 

Abrik Shautha, 80, 184 

Abubakr, Sheikh, 102, 198 

Aclarbaijan, 37 

'Adi ibn Musafir, Sheikh, passim 

Ahmadia (sect), 187 

Ahriman (spirit), 38, 74, 203 

Ahura Mazda (spirit), 38 

Ain Sifni (place), 56, 117, 133 

Al-'Adawiya (sect), 179 

Al-Daghi (tribe), 68 

Al-Dakhi (tribe), 68 

Aleppo, 41, 66, 107, 138 

Al-Hawarij (sect), 35 

'All Beg (chief), 89 

'AH Beg (Mir), 92 

'AH (Caliph), 28 

'Ali, Sheikh, 146 

'Aliyu'llahi (sect), 164 

Al-jahilin (tribe), 31, 194 

Al-Qaus (place), 68, in, 113 

Altaian-Shamanism, 72 

Amera (tribe), 69 

Amu'ad (tribe), 67 

Angra Mainyu (spirit), 38 

Ardeshir, 190 

Arghun, King, 108 

As-Sahrastani, Muhammadj 35, 73, 208 

Assyrians, 45, 114 

Avriva (place), 119 

Azarika (sect), 35 



Zoroaster, the Great Teacher. 1923. B. H. SPRINGETT. 
By Tigris and Euphrates. 1923. E. S. STEVENS. 
Amurath to Amurath. 1924. G. L. BELL. 
The Heart of the Middle East. 1925. R. COKE. 
Mosul and its Minorities. 1925. H. C. LUKE. 
Thro' the Gates of Memory: From the Bosphorus to 
Baghdad. 1925. B. CUNLIFFE-OWEN. 



ABADIYA (sect), 73, 206 

Abdu'1-Ahad Effendi, 116 

Abdu'l-Kadir, Sheikh, 106 

Abrik Shautha, 80, 184 

Abubakr, Sheikh, 102, 198 

Aclarbaijan, 37 

'Adi ibn Musafir, Sheikh, passim 

Ahmadia (sect), 187 

Ahriman (spirit), 38, 74, 203 

Ahura Mazda (spirit), 38 

Ain Sifni (place), 56, 117, 133 

Al-'Adawiya (sect), 179 

AI-Daghi (tribe), 68 

Al-Dakhi (tribe), 68 

Aleppo, 41, 66, 107, 138 

Al-Hawarij (sect), 35 

'Ali Beg (chief), 89 

'AH Beg (Mir), 92 

'Ali (Caliph), 28 

'AH, Sheikh, 146 

'Aliyu'llahi (sect), 164 

Al-jahilin (tribe), 31, 194 

Al-Qaus (place), 68, in, 113 

Altaian-Shamanism, 72 

Amera (tribe), 69 

Amu'ad (tribe), 67 

Angra Mainyu (spirit), 38 

Ardeshir, 190 

Arghun, King, 108 

As-Sahrastani, Muhammad> 35, 73, 208 

Assyrians, 45, 114 

Avriva (place), 119 

Azarika (sect), 35 


228 INDEX 

BAIBAN (place), 56, 87, 114, 204 

Ba Idhra, 67, 100, 114, 133, 150 

Bait-Far (place), 106 

Bait-Khalad (tribe), 69 

Baghdad, 78, 94 

Bahram I, 191 

Baluch (tribe), 52 

Ba-qasra (place), 56 

Baqtashis (sect), 163 

Baquba (place), 92 

Bar-Kewani, Theodore, 35 

Ba Sheikha (place), 56, 67, 82, 137, 216 

Basra, 44, no 

Batinai (place), 113 

Batwan Su (river), 138 

Ba'zani (place), 67, 82, 101, in, 216 

Bedouin, 43 

Belad (place), 67 

Bell, Miss Gertrude, 107, 214 

Beni-'Umaya (tribe), 104 

Beristek (place), 117 

Bharains, 169 

Boktan (place), 66 

Bombay, 38 

Bukra (tribe), 68 

CAR NICOBAR (island), 166 
Caucasus, 41, 67, 141 
Chaldeans, 44 
Chalka (tribe), 68 
Choi Beg, 92 
Ctesiphon, 71 

DAHKA"N (place), 56 

Dair Asi, 52, 188 

Dairu'z-Z6r, 91 

Da'is (priest), 169, 218 

Damascus, 66 

Dasni (tribes), 68, 73 

Da'ud al Da'ud, 95 

Dera Ghazi Khan (district), 168 

Derebun (place), 67 

INDEX 229 

De Vaux, Carra, 207 
Dhatmkal (place), 169 
Diarbekr, 55, 66, 138, 202 
Dohuk (district), 67 
Dunadi (tribe), 67 

ECBATANA (place), 71 
Erlik (spirit), 72 
Esiyau (place), 117 
Euphrates, 45 

FAKHRU'DDfN, 8l, 84, 10$, 147, 149, 174, l8l, 

Fakhru'ddin ibn Qurqmas, 181 
Fakhru'ddin, Sheikh, 149, 220 
Faqir (priest), 53, 63, 98, 101, 218 
Faqir (tribe), 68 
Farik 'Umar Pasha, 91 
Farrash (priest), 101, 218 
Fuqraiya (priest), 101, 219 

GABARA (tribe), 68 
Geli Hudaida (place), 119 
Ge-lug-pa (sect), 22 
Gengis Khan, 105 
Ghazi Miyan, 168 
Giranjak (place), 86, 204 
Gujranwala (district), 169 
Gura Guza, 168 

HADRAT DA'UD, 141, 192 

Hafiz Pasha, 90 

Haidi (tribe), 55 

Hairo (place), 56 

Hakkari (hills), 106 

Halitiya (tribe), 55, 138, 202 

Hallajiya (sect), 214 

Hamo Shero, 61, 95, 167 

Hasan al-Basri, Sheikh, 81, 96> 102, 141, 146, 

174, 192, 198, 220 
Hatara (place), 56 
Hauran (district), 107 
Havveri (tribe), 68 

230 INDEX 

Hera (goddess), 134 
Herat (place), 81 
Heska (tribe), 68 
Hosaba (place), 56 
Hubaba (tribe), 68 
Huriya, 46 
Husain, 92, 116 
Husain ibn 'All, 28, 30, 194 
Husain ibn Mansur, 78 
Husain (Mir), 56, 89, 92 
Huwari (tribe), 68 
Huzran (place), 56 

Ibn HAZM, 36 
Ibrik al-Asfar, 80, 184 
Ikh.ti'ar-i-Margahi, 96, 217 
Isma'il Bey, 92 

JABRI (tribe), 68 
Jackson, Prof. A. V. W., 43 
Jaziratu-rUmar (place), 138 
Jebel Kand (hills), 113 
Jebel Maklub (hills), 66 
Jerehiya (place), 114 
Jerusalem, 54 
Jezira (district), 68 
Jhang (district), 169 
Jinnis, 46 
Jowana (tribe), 68 
Jurhum (tribe), 196 

KA'BA, 28, 54, 197 
Kabana, 101, 218 
Kabbara (place), 56, 82 
Kadiri dervishes, 106 
Kai (place), 81 
Kaira Khan (spirit), 72 
Kamush (spirit), 81, 221 
Kand, Jebel (hills), 113 
Kara Kirghiz (sect), 22 
Kara Pahu (place), 56 
Kashmir, 212 

INDEX 231 

Kasi Ahmad ibn Khallikan, 34, 106 

Kasr'azu'ddin (place), 146 

Katamuni (place), 91 

Kazak (sect), 22 

Kenwi Lash (valley), 106 

Kharijite (sect), 73, 206 

Kherraniya (tribe), 68 

Kherzan (place), 66 

Khokars (sect), 1691 

Kibartu (place), 56 

Kiran (tribe), 68 

Kitab al-Aswad, 146 

Kuchak (priest), 59, 63/99, I3 2I 9 

Kuchar (tribes), 68 

Kuyinjik (place), 89, 112 

(sect), 167 
Lasifarus (spirit), 83, 199 
Lushai (sect), 22 

MAGI (sect,) 43, 71, 217 

Mairi Khan, 102 

Mai'yam Khanim, 93 

Maklub, Jebel (hills), 66 

Malik Miran, 45 

Mallia (place), 138 

Malta, 115 

Mand, Sheikh, 82, 101, 216, 219 

Mandasans, 207 

Mandalay, 177 

Mani, 70 

Mansur al-Hallaj, 78, 108, 213 

Maragha (place), 105 

Mardi (sect), 42 

Mardin (place), 138 

Marie, Pere Anastase, 150 

Mashaf Ras, 29, 146, 220 

Mecca, 28, 54, 82, 108, 120 

Medi (Mahdi), Sheikh, 85, 200 

Medina, 28 

Mendka (tribe), 68 

Midyat (district), 67 

232 INDEX 

Mihrka (tribe and district), 67, 68, 95 

Milik (place), 67, 95 

Mir, 31, 92, 116, 185 

Mirza Agha, 90, 164 

Missuri (tribe), 67 

Mori (clan), 136 

Moskov, 138 

Mosul (town), 89, 94, 108, 131, 141 

Mosul (vilayet), 41, 66, 87 

Mount Lalish, 108 

Muhakkamah (sect), 35 

Muhammad Amin al-'Umari, 107 

Muhammad as-Sahrastani, 35, 73, 208 

Muhammad Rashan, 101, 219 

Muhammad Reshid Pasha, 90 

Mujawirs, 169 

Mulla Haidar, 150 

Mullas, 98, 218 

Multan (place), 169 

Murtaddun (sect), 32 

Musafiru'd-din, King, 106 

Mushrik (sect), 36 

Musikan (place), 56 

NAKIR and Nakir (spirits), 63, 101, 197, 204 

Nasari (place), 87 

Nasir, Sheikh, 56 

Nasru'ddin, Sheikh, 84, 102, 198 

Na'umi, 45 

Nebi Unis (place), 112 

Nicobar Islands, 166 

Nicobarese, 162 

Nigaha (place), 169 

Nineveh, 112 

Nusairis (sect), 164 

ORMAZD (spirit), 38 

Parsees, 38, 87, 204 
Percy, Lord, 108, 128 
Pesmir (caste), 92 
Pir (priest), 97, 217 

INDEX 233 

QARABASHIS, 98, 218 

Qauwal (priest), 51, 97, 104, 130, 218 

Qizilbashis, 48, 163, 173 

Quraishi (sect), 197 

Qur'an, 28, 36, 165, 182, 199, 207 


Rashukan (tribe), 68 

Redwan (place), 55, 66, 90, 138, 164 

Rowanduz, Bey of, 89 

Ruhsit (place), 87, 204 

Ruhsit, Sheikh, 87, 204 

SAB^EANS, 36, 44, 206 

Sabur I and II, 102, 190 

Safar, 92 

Sa'id Beg, 92, 116, 132 

Sakhi Sarwar, 168 

Salju'ddin, Sheikh, 102, 198 

Samaki (tribe), 67 

Samukha (tribe), 68 

Sanajiq (symbols), 29, 94, 115, 129, 137, 190 

Santal (sect), 22 

Sarahdar (province), 138 

Sasanians, 190 

Sayyid Ahmad, 169 

Seistan (province), 39, 162, 210 

Semil (place), 67, 146 

Semiramis (goddess), 91, 164 

Shahid Jayar, 47 

Shahkot (place), 169 

Shah Madar, 168 

Shaman (priest), 72 

Shams 'Ali Beg al-Farisi, Sheikh, 81 

Shamsu'ddm, Sheikh (spirit), 53, 84, 102, 124, 

141, 174, 192, 198 
Shapur I and II, 191 
Sharafiya (place), 113 
Sharafu'ddin ibn 'Adi, 105 
Shawish (priest), 101 
Sheikh Abdu'l-Kadir, 106 
Sheikh Abubakr, 102, 198 

234 INDEX 

Sheikh 'Adi ibn Musafir, passim 

Sheikh 'Adi (place), 55, 67, 81, 97, 204 

Sheikh 'Ali, 146 

Sheikhan (district and tribe), 62, 66, 92, 108 

Sheikh Fakhru'ddin, 149, 220 

Sheikh Hasan al-Basri, 81, 96, 102, 141, 146, 

174, 192, 198, 220 : 

Sheikh Mand, 82, 101, 216, 219 
Sheikh Medi (Mahdi), 85, 200 
Sheikh Nasir, 56 
Sheikh Nasru'ddin, 84, 102, 198 
Sheikh Ruhsit, 87, 204 
Sheikh Salju'ddin, 102, 198 
Sheikh Shams 'Ali Beg al-Farisi, 81 
Sheikh Shamsu'ddin (spirit), 53, 84, 102, 124, 

141, 174, 192, 198 

Shi'a (sect), 28, 50, 74, 85, 165, 173, 200 
Sikhim (place), 22 

Sinjar, 41, 44, 52, 66, 73, 91, 138, 151, 188, 209 
Sitt Nasiba, 181 
Sohrani (tribe), 67 
Stratford, Lord, 90 
Sunni (sect), 30, 165 

TABAR! ibn 'Unaissa, 36 
Tammtiz, 134, 175, 184 
Tarhoya (tribe), 82, 178 
Teheran, 66 
Tehuelche Indians, 22 
Tel Kaif, 113 
Tel Uskof, 100, 113 
Thagya Nat, 176 
Tiflis, 67 
Tigris, 78, 138 
Tuluvas (sect), 161 
Turkish Army, 91 

ULEK! (tribe), 68 
'Umar Bey, 91 
Uramiah, 39 

VAISHNAVA (sect), 200 

INDEX 235 

.Van, Lake, 41 
Varthema, 172 

WETNHIYON (sect), 27, 197 


Yezd (place), 39 

Yezd (province), 39, 157, 210 

Yezid Far far (spirit), 34, 157, 203 

Yezid ibn Abi Sufian, 195, 206 

Yezid ibn Mu'awiya, passim 

Yezid ibn 'Unaissa (Yezid ibn Abi Anisa), 35, 

Yezidiyas (sect), 206 

ZAID ibn 'Ubaissa, 36, 206 
ZainuTabidin, 169 
Zakho (district), 68 
Zarvanites, 38 
Zaza (tribe), 174 
Zednaya (tribe), 104 
Zemzem, 82, 108, 125, 216 
Zoroaster, 37, 50, 78, 83, 87 
Zoroastrians, 39, 84, 157, 204 




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